More than a month ago, the winter season officially began, but it hasn’t felt like it with recent temperatures.
However, with colder weather in the forecast, now is the best time for homeowners to fortify their house with a few cheap and easy fixes to keep it warm and save energy and money.
The average household spends about $2,000 a year on utilities, almost half of which goes toward heating and cooling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Luckily, a little savvy can go a long way toward reducing bills.
Here are six ideas from the energy experts:
1. THINK CLEAN, CLEAR AND EFFICIENT
Changing out flat air filters every month or the pleated ones every three months can save money on heating costs.
“Your heating and air-conditioning costs around 50 percent of your home’s (energy) usage,” said Meredith Stone, a corporate communication specialist with Georgia Power. “And that simple step can save you a little bit.”
Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed.
“Check your furnace filter on a monthly basis. If it’s dirty, it won’t function as efficiently as it could,” she said.
And Bob McGee, a spokesman for the Con Edison utility company, said a tune up to the heating system once a year will also help. Or if you’re in the market for a new furnace, opt for an Energy Star-certified model. Some upgrades can reduce heating costs by as much as 30 percent, McGee said.
“And remember to make sure the heating vents aren’t blocked and that everything’s cleared out of the way. Otherwise you’ll be heating your drapes or the back of your furniture instead of the room,” Urbanek said.
2. PUT WINDOWS AND FANS TO WORK
“Make sure your curtains are open when the sun is out and closed when it’s dark and cold outside,” Urbanek said. “And remember that warm air rises, so if you have a ceiling fan, keeping it on low with the blade direction reversed (moving clockwise) will gently bring the warm air back down.”
3. GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Consider investing in a programmable thermostat to maximize energy efficiency.
“Smart thermostats are another way people can save,” Stone said. “It can adjust homes’ temperatures when you are away and is a great way to save in energy costs.”
Georgia Power’s online marketplace offers programmable thermostats for purchase with an instant rebate.
But if buying a new thermostat is not possible, residents can manually turn down the temperature before leaving for work or before going to bed.
The Georgia Power website (residential.georgiapower.com) recommends setting the thermostat at 68 degree in the winter. Homeowners and renters can expect a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in energy use for every degree you set the thermostat higher in the winter, the website said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council goes one step further.
“We recommend keeping it set to between 68 and 72 degrees when people are home, and then down to between 55 and 65 when no one is home and at night,” Urbanek said.
The EPA says the thermostat should be set to 8 degrees lower than normal at night and when no one’s home.
4. SEAL AND INSULATE
If you’re doing all that and your bills are still high, the Natural Resources Defense Council recommends checking for leaks.
“Things like caulking and window stripping are really easy to do,” Urbanek said.
Stone agreed, recommending Georgia residents ensure their doors and windows are adequately caulked.
“Caulking around doors and windows can save up to 10 percent,” she said.
She also suggested checking the weather stripping for damage.
“A lot of people automatically assume that if your house is drafty or cold, you need new windows,” Urbanek said. “It’s sometimes true. But in a lot of cases, that might not be the most cost-effective way of keeping warm for less. Air sealing and insulation often gives you way more bang for your buck in terms of savings.”
The average household can cut its heating and cooling costs by around $200 per year by following Energy Star’s sealing and insulation guidance (www.energystar.gov) and using Energy Star-certified appliances, according to the EPA.
5. A LITTLE LESS LIGHT, WATER
Stone said homeowners and renters can cut their electricity bills a bit simply by switching out their light bulbs.
“Replacing incandescent bulbs with Energy Star LED bulbs can cut costs,” she said. “Those consume 75 percent less energy than regular bulb, and they can last 25 years. They cost more up front but save more in the long run.”
Stone said these products and more can be found online at www.georgiapowermarketplace.com.
6. CONSIDER AN ENERGY AUDIT
Many energy companies help customers get professional energy audits of their homes or offer lists of energy audit providers. Some utilities offer financial incentives for audits.
Georgia Power is one such company, offering Home Energy Assessment to its customers. The professional will assess the home and pinpoint improvements that can translate into greater energy efficiency and savings. Then the customer may receive up to a $200 rebate for using a participating contractor, according to the website.
The homeowner will receive a report of recommended energy-efficient improvements. Depending on the improvements made to the home, a homeowner may qualify for rebates.
“There is a lot people can do in homes to save money,” Stone said.