Preparing your Home for the Winter Heating Season
The Button Up NH Home Weatherization Workshops are Back!
Exciting news! Button Up NH is back thanks to the sponsorship of your utilities! Visit www,NHSaves.com for more energy saving programs.
These home weatherization workshops are designed to provide you with information and techniques to help you save money on home energy use. The workshops are conducted by an independent certified energy professional. Participants will learn basic building science concepts and learn the basics about air sealing, insulating, and conservation measures that reduce fuel and electricity use.
Workshop participants will learn how to sign up for Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) – a program open to customers of Liberty Utilities, PSNH, NH Electric Coop and Unitil. HPwES is open to all NH families and is solely based on whether your home has a higher than average heating fuel bill. By signing up for the HPwES program, NH residents can access a Home Energy Audit for $100, financial incentives up to $4000 and technical expertise.
According to Craig Cadieux, a BPI Certified Building Analyst and Button Up Presenter, “The Home Performance with Energy Star Program is something everyone homeowner should consider. It gives homeowners the assistance they need to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes. When a homeowner participates in the program they will receive a list of recommendations for cost effective energy efficiency improvements and will have the opportunity to decide, if any, the work they want done on their home.”
All Button Up NH Workshops are free and open to the public. For more information more dates and locations for upcoming workshops visit: http://myenergyplan.net/buttonup
If interested in hosting a Button Up NH Workshop in your community, e-mail Zak Brohinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-536-5030.
The Button Up NH program also includes over a dozen mini energy videos to help NH residents learn more about home energy issues and savings. These videos can be viewed here.
Start with your heating system
The typical New Hampshire household will spend around $3000 to heat their home this winter.
There are a lot of things you and your family can do right now to reduce those heating bills as much as 20 percent or more with simple actions that don't cost too much.
Lower your thermostat
Every degree you lower the thermostat reduces your fuel costs by about two percent. Keeping your home at 68 degrees in the winter, rather than 73 degrees will typically save about 10 percent in fuel bills.
Lowering the temperature even further when the house is empty or when everyone is sleeping will also reduce your heating bill. If you keep forgetting to lower the temperature manually, a programmable thermostat can help. ("Set it and forget it.") These cost about $50 but will pay for themselves in the first heating season.
There's a common misconception that it takes more energy to raise the temperature of a previously unoccupied home to a comfortable range than it does to maintain that temperature consistently regardless of whether the home is occupied or not. This simply isn't true. If no one is going to be home, turn the heat down; you'll save.
Have your heating system professionally serviced
Having your heating system cleaned and serviced regularly could reduce your fuel costs by 10 percent or more. Getting your system professionally serviced now reduces the likelihood of needing emergency service come January. As a general rule, oil systems should be cleaned and serviced annually, while gas systems should be serviced every other year.
The service technician should:
- Make sure the pilot light (if you have one) and thermostat are working correctly.
- Check the fuel pipe and heating exchanger for cracks or leaks
- Test the efficiency of your heating system (how effectively your furnace or boiler converts fuel to heat).
Since all conventional heating systems produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion, getting your system checked is a safety issue, too.
Change the filter in a forced hot-air system monthly during the heating season to help keep the system at peak efficiency. Most homeowners can change the filters themselves.
Consider a new heating system
If your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR-qualified heating system. These models use 6 percent to 15 percent less fuel than non-ENERGY STAR systems. Visit the ENERGY STAR Web site for a list of retailers and qualifying models.
You wouldn't leave a window open all winter long, but small air leaks around windows, doors, pipes, recessed lighting, and electrical outlets can cause an equivalent loss of heat. Sealing air leaks can reduce your heating bills by 10 percent to 20 percent and possibly more depending on specific conditions in your home. Here's how:
Seal door leaks with weather-stripping or a door sweep; seal window leaks with caulking. Rope caulk is an effective alternative to cartridge caulking and can be easily removed in the spring.
Most heat loss occurs as warm air rises and exits the house through gaps around the chimney or attic, while also drawing cold outside air in through cracks in the basement and foundation (home airflow schematic). Pay particular attention to the attic hatch or pull-down stairs and to any interior-wall top plates in the attic, as these areas are frequently leaky.
Exterior points such as bulkhead doors and the spaces around pipes where they enter your house (called plumbing penetrations) can also let in cold air and should be sealed.
Another significant source of air leaks is ductwork that extends throughout the house. Several studies have indicated that sealing ductwork alone can result in an average annual savings in heating bills of 17 percent. Seal ductwork joints with high-quality foil tape or mastic paste. Despite the name, duct tape doesn't work well. Avoid it.
Homes do need to "breathe." Harmful flu gases from the heating system and mold can accumulate in homes without adequate ventilation. Most New Hampshire homes have adequate airflow. In fact, most homes in our state should have their airflow reduced. A blower-door test can determine if you have sufficient ventilation.
"Seal tight and ventilate right" should be the guiding principle when it comes to sealing air leaks. The trick: making sure your home doesn't lose valuable heat but does provide enough fresh air to maintain good indoor air quality. You can have both.
Make sure your home is adequately insulated
Sufficient insulation in your attic, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces can reduce your heating costs by as much as 25 percent. The Department of Energy has recommendations for insulation; consult their guide if you're not sure if your home is adequately insulated.
Generally speaking, attics are the most cost-effective area to insulate. Also insulate heating ducts (especially in unheated areas such as attic crawl spaces). Since many ducts are hidden and not easily accessible, you may need to hire a professional to seal and insulate your ductwork.
Insulate all hot water heating pipes and domestic hot water pipes with foam tubing insulation. Consider adding an external insulating jacket to your hot water heater if your water heater's factory-installed insulation is less than R-15. You can purchase an insulating jacket at your local hardware store for around $20.
Insulate water heaters carefully (especially gas fired heaters) following the manufacturer's guidelines. It's important not to obstruct the top, bottom, thermostat, and burner compartment (if applicable) of the water heater.
Clean and unblock radiators and baseboards
Dirt, dust, and pet fur all reduce the effectiveness of the radiators and baseboards that distribute heat. Clean these elements regularly and make sure furniture and drapes don't inhibit the air flow.
Check the chimney
Closing the chimney and fireplace dampers when not in use will prevent drafts and a loss of heat. (Learn more about chimneys.)
Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually. Oil, propane, natural gas, and wood all produce carbon monoxide when burned to produce heat. House fires can also result, so its important to test all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home regularly to ensure they're fully operational.
Note however, that carbon monoxide detectors may not be as reliable as smoke detectors. Your best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning is still regular cleaning and inspection of all heating system elements.
Heat your home with wood
Using wood from sustainably managed New Hampshire forests can make economic and environmental sense this winter. As heating oil prices have increased, so have the prices of cordwood and wood pellets, but they remain more economical than fuel oil.
Considering the energy content of both fuels, if heating oil is $4.00/gallon, you could afford to pay more than $500 a cord for seasoned hardwood and $470 per ton for wood pellets to get an equivalent amount of heat.
Of course, wood burning has special safety considerations and requires you to invest some of your own time and energy. See Heating with Wood for more information on using wood efficiently and safely this heating season.
New windows (or not)
If you want or need new windows, purchasing Energy STAR windows can reduce your heating bills.
New windows are expensive, however, and most homeowners can achieve significant savings through less-costly options such as storm windows, plastic sheeting applied to the interior of a window (with a hair dryer), and tight-fitting shades or cellular blinds.
On sunny winter days, open window shades on south-facing windows to maximize solar heat gain. Close these shades after dark to minimize heat loss.
Reduce your hot water use
Water heating consumes about 15 percent of a household's energy budget. There are lots of ways to reduce this figure. For example:
- Install low-flow showerheads.
- Limit showers to 3-5 minutes.
- Run the dishwasher only when it's fully loaded.
- Wash clothes in cold water; 80 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heat the water.
- Set your water heater to 120 degrees F. That's hot enough to clean and sanitize. The lower temp also prevents scalding.
Unless you heat your living space with electricity, lowering your electric bill won't directly reduce your heating expenses, but it will free up money you can put towards heating fuel. Here are a few tips that can save up to 15 percent of your monthly electric costs:
- Turn off any lights you aren't using.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times as long. A single CFL can save more than $70 worth of electricity over its lifetime.
- Plug electronic devices such as computers, printers, and televisions (especially those with a remote control or digital clock) on a power strip and shut the power strip off when not in use. Many electronic devices continue to draw electricity even when the device is off. Known as phantom load or standby loss, this perpetual electricity draw really adds up, accounting for up to 12 percent of a monthly electric bill. "Smart" power strips are also available that can make it even easier to reduce phantom load.
- A plug-in watt meter can tell you how much electricity each of your appliances and home electronics consumes, while a whole house meter will monitor your entire home's electricity consumption. These devices can help you identify ways to reduce your electricity use and costs.
- To reduce your bill further, consider replacing older appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and dehumidifiers with energy-efficient ENERGY STAR appliances and unplugging appliances you don't use much. Replacing an 18-year-old refrigerator and unplugging a freezer that's only partly full (providing you have freezer space elsewhere to keep the food frozen or have a plan to use the frozen food within a day or two) will each save about $150 a year.
Get a professional audit
Although the actions above will go a long way toward winterizing your home, there's simply no substitute for a professional energy audit. An energy auditor will analyze how your home uses energy and what steps you can take to use energy more efficiently.
Energy auditors will use specialized diagnostic equipment such as a blower door test to measure air leakage and an infrared detector to identify under insulated areas in your home. They can also test the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems and make recommendations on ways to reduce your electricity and hot water consumption.
A professional energy audit costs about $300 to $500, but most homeowners recoup this cost after implementing the auditor's recommendations. You might check with your utility first to see if they provide free or discounted energy audits.
Most auditors have specialized training in residential construction, heat transfer, moisture control, insulation, and air leakage and are thus skilled in maximizing home energy efficiency without sacrificing comfort or safety. Contact the New Hampshire Residential Energy Performance Association for a list of qualified auditors in your area.
Additional Resources and Energy-Tip Guides
By Denise Blaha, with help from George Malette and Andy Duncan, Energy Answers Advisory Team
It's Cold Outside Winter Heating in NH (Newletter Article on available energy options throughout NH) - By the New Hampshire Employment Security, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau