As winter settles in, we turn up the thermostat, which can burn money and heat up the planet with greenhouse gas-generating fossil fuels.
There are lots of ways to conserve without compromising comfort or health. Local utilities, the Energy Trust of Oregon and other agencies offer free audits to identify and prioritize improvements, so call your utility for advice before making changes that involve costs.
Audits, conservation tips and information on financial incentives:
• Avista Utilities, www.everylittlebit.com
• Ashland Conservation Division, www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=1366
• Energy Trust of Oregon: http://energytrust.org/residential
• ACCESS Inc.: Conservation tips, free audits and weatherization for lower-income households, www.access-inc.org/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=3
Dressing for the season is one of the easiest ways to save. Revel in the chance to don favorite sweaters and other winter clothing, cozy up in blankets and wear socks if you remove shoes indoors.
Be smart about heat use. Dan Cunningham, energy-conservation analyst with the City of Ashland, advises setting thermostats to 68 degrees or less, ensuring ducts aren't obstructed and closing windows fully.
"For every degree below 68 degrees, you can save up to 3 percent on your bill," says Cunningham.
Kerry Shroy, lead conservation program manager at Avista, advises further reducing temperatures overnight and when away for more than four hours.
"Across an eight-hour period, you save 1 percent per degree," remarks Shroy.
For a nominal cost, you can make some high-impact improvements. Shroy recommends checking furnace filters monthly and cleaning or replacing them when dirty to maximize efficiency. He also suggests weather-stripping doors and windows, caulking cracks and using gaskets on switch-plate covers.
"Window film is good when applied correctly. Make sure you follow the directions," he remarks. Ensure ducts are sealed, too.
Insulate attics, floors, walls, ducts and water heaters.
If you're regularly away from home for work, or aren't the type to remember to adjust your heat, install a programmable thermostat. "Through proper use, a programmable thermostat can save about $180 yearly in energy costs," says Cunningham.
He advises using portable space heaters sparingly, if at all, because many consume large amounts of power in comparison to the little warmth they provide. Purchase a highly efficient model if a space heater is needed.
Upgrading and Remodeling
Updating outmoded systems and home features can yield significant benefits. Many improvements qualify for rebates or tax credits from utilities and state and federal governments. Ask service providers for information.
If you're shopping for a new furnace, select one with 90-percent efficiency or more, according to Shroy. Look for products with the Energy Star label, indicating above-average efficiency, and check specs to find the best options.
"Replacing old heating equipment with Energy Star (models) can cut annual bills by nearly $200," states Cunningham. He encourages homeowners to consider ground-source heat pumps, which tap the earth's internal warmth to reduce power needs, and "ductless mini split systems" for homes without duct work. Installing double- or triple-paned windows in place of single-paned glass also can return significant savings.
Enjoy winter with planet-friendly warmth!
Melissa A. Schweisguth is a freelance writer whose parents always turned down the heat at night, and the habit stuck. She stays warm with blankets and tops made by family members, and hot cocoa.