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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2007
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What can be done to lower utility bills during winter?

By Tim Paradis
AP Business Writer

Q. What can I do to reduce my heating bill this winter?

A. As many parts of the country have seen mild fall weather, preparing a home for winter might not yet be a big concern but steps taken early can prevent homeowners from feeling a cold chill when the heating bill arrives.

The savings from making a home more efficient can be sizable, as heating and cooling costs account for about 56 percent of energy use in a home, according to the Department of Energy.

“Check your heating systems early on in the season. If you turn your heat on one of the first cold nights and it isn’t working there is going to be a queue of people waiting for a repair,” said Bill Stack, residential energy efficiency program manager at Nstar, a Massachusetts electric and gas utility.

Homeowners should check with their local utility to determine whether an energy use assessment is available and whether the company offers any rebates for shoring up a home’s efficiency, said Stack.

Nstar, for example, offers a free home energy assessment in which an inspector pokes around the house from the attic to the basement looking for ways it can be made more efficient. Just plugging leaks can reduce energy costs for an average home by 10 percent.

And saving money where possible could be in order. The Energy Department said the retail price of electricity increased by more than 9 percent in 2006, the biggest increase since 1981.

“One of the least expensive ways to affect your heating costs would be to switch to a programmable thermostat,” Stack said. “People can save up to 20 percent on their annual heating bills.”

Setting the thermostat to 62 degrees when no one is at home or at night can reduce the furnace’s workload. During times when people are home the thermostat shouldn’t be set above 68 degrees, Stack said.

Saving by degrees

Every degree lowered shaves about 2 percent off a heating bill, according to Nstar.

A clean furnace filter is important. Homeowners should clean it before winter and then once a month during winter. Experts also recommend plugging leaks with caulking and other products like weather stripping.

Even the position of furniture, Stack said, can make a furnace operate less efficiently. Furniture or window coverings shouldn’t block vents or radiators.

During the winter months, he suggests removing radiator covers to allow the heat to flow into the room. Taking a piece of plywood, covering one side with aluminum foil and sliding it between the radiator and the wall can help reflect heat into the room.

Nstar also recommends turning a home’s water heater down to 120 degrees.

Bigger projects such as adding insulation where it has been missing, as is often the case with north-facing walls even when the attic and basement are insulated, can make a big difference, Stack said.

“It adds to the resale value down the road but it also has an immediate impact on their energy costs.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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