Winter Energy EfficiencyIt seems that winter home heating costs increase a little more with each passing year. Yet many families, especially those living in older houses, don’t realize they’re literally surrounded by opportunities to trim winter home heating and utility bills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that American families spend nearly $1,100 on home heating and cooling costs each year – nearly half their total energy expenditures. However, experts agree that taking steps now to “winterize” the home can result in steep savings – sometimes as much as 20 percent.

The following energy efficiency tips don’t just work for homeowners. Apartment tenants and mobile home residents can also put these ideas and strategies into action. Just make sure to check with proprietors or property managers first.

Seal Up Your Home, and Seal In The Savings

You wouldn’t set sail in a leaking boat, so why brave winter temperatures in a leaky house? Winterize your home by weather-stripping doorways and windows, sealing cracks and fissures in the window and doorframes and keeping holes in the walls and ceilings shut tight. Small cracks equal big expenses: experts say a one-eighth inch gap between a door and its frame costs as much as a six-inch wide hole in your wall.

Windows, especially single-pane glass windows, are poor retainers of heat. Plastic film storm windows, available at most hardware stores and easy to install, will also trim electricity costs by better insulating your widows and window frames.

Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use. Unplug outdoor appliances and electronics to keep them from passively absorbing electricity. Consider upgrading your traditional wood-burning fireplace to a more energy efficient fireplace insert.

Don’t waste money by heating areas of the house that don’t get a lot of activity. Shut the doors and vents to unused or seldom-used rooms (guest bedrooms, basements, et cetera). This will better convey heat to high-traffic areas. Open all the curtains and blinds of south-facing windows, to better allow sunlight to heat your home naturally.

Adding insulation to your home, especially your attic, also helps you save big. You can also add insulation to other unfinished space in your home such as basement walls, crawlspaces, ceilings, and utility closets.

Dial Down the Thermostat and Dial Back The Utility Costs

Fireplace InsertsSetting your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in cold weather months can quickly add up to energy savings. The California Energy Commission reports that you’ll save up to five percent on home heating costs for every degree you lower your thermostat within the 60- to 70-degree range. At night, dial back the thermostat to 55 degrees, or turn it off, to save up to 20 percent on heating costs. (To prevent overuse of backup strip heating, dial heat pumps back no more than two degrees.)

Installing programmable thermostats takes the constant supervision out of monitoring your home’s temperature level. Make sure the thermostat is properly installed in a part of your home that’s heated, so it can accurately monitor home heating levels.

Old Man Winter Is Hard On Old Furnaces and Heaters

If your home’s furnace or heating system is more than ten years old, the EPA recommends getting it a thorough inspection by a licensed heating expert or contractor. You should also check your heater’s air filter every month to make sure it stays clean, and replace it when needed.

Winterize Your Water Pipes and Hot Water Heaters

Save up to seven percent on your electricity bill by dialing your hot water heater’s thermostat down to 120 degrees. You can save even more by wrapping or insulating the pipes running from the hot water heating unit to the wall. Wrap the heating unit in an energy-saving heater blanket or jacket (available at most hardware stores). Consider buying a newer, more energy efficient heater: most water heaters have twelve-year life spans; older units will likely need servicing or replacement.

Drain a bucket of water from your hot water heater before the cold weather truly sets in. This will remove sediment and granular matter that accumulates inside the pipes and “prime” your heater for the months ahead, making ti run more effectively.

Save on laundry costs by washing your clothes in cold water, and running only full loads. Running cold-water laundry loads decreases the washer’s energy usage by 75 percent.

Take shorter and cooler showers; install low-flow showerheads to slash hot water expenses as much as 16 percent.

As with the window and door gaps, save money by caulking or sealing all cracks, fissures and openings.

Invest In A Wood-Burning Stove

Winter Energy EfficiencyDownsize your home heating utility bills altogether by investing in a vent-free or direct-vent stove. Usually powered by wood, propane, or natural gas, direct vent stoves use double-walled stovepipe to funnel exhaust away from the home’s interior, while remaining much more energy efficient than conventional (or B-vent) wood-burning fireplaces.

Vent-free fireplaces are self-contained (as the name implies, no venting is needed) and almost 100% efficient. Both direct-vent and vent-free stoves make excellent heating choices for bedrooms, family rooms, and basements. Electric space heaters may also offer opportunities for greater energy efficiency in parts of the home that are difficult to heat through conventional means.

Look for ENERGY STAR Products

Energy experts recommend investing in appliances, electronics, and heaters with the ENERGY STAR certification, which are certified by the EPA as using 20 – 30 percent less energy than comparable, non-certified products. Visit the official ENERGY STAR website for more information.

Wood StovesThe wood stove, or simply the stove, offers an enticing alternative to space heaters and traditional fireplaces. Probably their greatest advantage is their versatility. Many “vent-free” stove models require no chimney or venting through a home’s exterior. Others burn a wider variety of fuels than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.

Wood stove models, despite their name, also operate using gas, electricity, coal, or special fuel “pellets” that work similarly to charcoal briquettes.

Homeowners should consider their home heating needs as well as how much they’re willing to spend before investing in a wood stove. Though they are not generally expensive, the right choice of stove depends largely on personal needs and expectations.

Stove Operation Is Surprisingly Modern, Accessible

Shoppers are often surprised by the electronic features that are common among different stove classes. Electric thermostats, push-button controls and easy-to-read displays are all basic standard features. As a rule, the level of sophistication varies according to manufacturer and model.

Seniors and those with limited mobility often find wood stoves to be a better alternative to fireplaces for just those reasons. Those same groups may prefer a stove because it is easier to access than a firebox or fireplace insert, which is typically embedded in a hearth or chimney.

Choosing the Right Stove Fuel for Your Needs

Pellet FuelWood-burning stoves are really only a more compact form of fireplace. They require a direct vent, or stovepipe, to help them channel their exhaust away from their surrounding room.

Gas stoves run on natural or propane gas, supplied through a line from the surrounding building or from an external tank. They are usually either direct-vent or vent-free, depending on their construction. (See section on venting options below.)

Electric stoves run on basic household current. They offer a greater range of placement options, but some models may not feature high energy efficiency. However, their relatively light weight and ease of installation make them an attractive choice for areas where venting is not practical.

Pellet stoves use a special wood-based pellet as a fuel source. They are energy efficient compared to wood-burning fireplaces and offer more convenience than gas models. The pellet stove has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, thanks to their fuel’s composition. Pellet fuel is often made from compacted sawdust or other waste products created from saw milling. Because the pellets are essentially recycled waste, they’ve become popular among shoppers who value environmental sustainability.

Finally, some stoves use common coal to effectively heat even larger-space rooms. They require very specific venting, and are not recommended for use inside mobile or modular homes.

Making the Right Venting Choice

A stove’s venting describes its method of funneling exhaust, or smoke, away from its surroundings. There are three basic types of venting.

Natural venting, or B-vents, uses air from inside the home or other surroundings. The hot air creates buoyancy that channels the exhaust through a venting system (for example, a stovepipe.) They are typically easier to install and cheaper than direct vents, but are not always as energy efficient.

Direct vents, also called pipe vents, use a specially constructed, double-walled pipe to channel exhaust outside. They don’t rely on a chimney or flue, and this allows them greater placement options in the home including bedrooms, sitting rooms, and converted garages and basements.

Vent-free stoves produce no exhaust and are self-contained and sealed. They make an ideal choice for limited or smaller spaces such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and basements. They are also more efficient than natural and direct vents because they retain all the heat they produce, rather than allowing some to escape through the chimney or stove pipe.

Space Heaters Also Represent A Valuable Choice

Wood Stoves

An electric space heater

Space heaters are typically gas- or propane-fueled, and work best in areas where space is limited or a stove would prove impractical. Some are wall-mounted, while others are easily portable throughout the home or building. Like stoves, many space heaters feature modern electronic controls for easy operation.

Stove Accessories Offer Convenience, Performance

There are literally hundreds of stove accessories available for all models and fuel types. These include enhanced electronics, home cooking and brewing implements, maintenance and repair tools, remote and wall-mounted controls, and a full range of decorative elements. Before making a final decision, it’s helpful to browse what accessories are available for the stove you want to purchase. This will help you anticipate upgrade, cleaning, and repair resources for use at a later date.