How Can You Save Money On Your Heating Bills this Winter?
In the Indianapolis area and across the country, average heating bills account for a little more than 40 percent of the household’s total annual energy spend. As utility rates rise for both electricity and natural gas, homeowners search for ways to lower total energy consumption and save money on the heating bill.
Major changes such as upgrading to a higher efficiency heating unit or converting to a heating fuel source that is lower in cost provide high rates of heating energy savings, but are not always in the budget for every homeowner. Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to invest into improving home efficiency, you are still able to make a significant dent in energy consumption and save money on heating bills with other types of home improvements and changes in your household’s habits.
How to save on heating doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming – there are many quick and affordable tasks Indianapolis homeowners can do to reduce their average heating cost per month, making their homes more energy efficient and comfortable in the process. Williams Comfort Air shares many ways to conserve energy and control your heating expenses, all without breaking your budget!
A Look at Average Cost for Heating Bills
According to the Department of Energy, nearly half of American homes utilize natural gas heating, 24 percent use electric heat, 6 percent heating oil, and 5 percent liquid propane. Approximately 3 out of 10 Indiana homes use electric heating, while 6 out of 10 homes use natural gas for heating. Only 3 percent of the nation’s homes do not have or use heating equipment, so heating bills are an expense most Hoosiers as well as most Americans share.
Heating costs vary from one home to the next, as each home and household have different characteristics that impact heating use and energy consumption. Household size, square footage, insulation levels, efficiency of heating equipment, type of heating fuel used, and other factors all play a role in determining how much it costs to heat your home.
Indiana was found to have the 29th highest utility costs in the United States – out of 50 states, average monthly heating bill expenses are actually on the low end.
- The average monthly electric bill for an Indiana home is $120.74.
- The average monthly natural gas bill for an Indiana home is $60.85.
The average annual heating bills per type of heating used show a significant different in cost between natural gas, electric, oil, and propane heating systems:
- 97% AFUE gas furnace: $453
- 80% AFUE gas furnace: $601
- 97% AFUE propane furnace: $737
- 87% AFUE oil furnace: $826
- 80% AFUE oil furnace: $896
- 80% AFUE propane furnace: $956
- 7 HSPF electric heat pump: $1,046
- Electrical resistance heating: $1,818
How to Save on Heating Bills
Help your home become more energy efficient through home improvement projects designed to increase energy conservation by fuel-consuming appliances and system as well as help the home retain more of the energy consumed by your household. Also, make a change in your habits, rethinking the way you use heat in the home. These tips are great ways to lower heating energy consumption and save money on your heating bill!
Easy HVAC Action Items
- Change air filters regularly. Clean filters allow your forced air furnace or heat pump to operate efficiently, preventing excess energy consumption caused when airflow is restricted by a dirty filter. Replace filters per the schedule recommended by the filter manufacturer, but check them monthly in the winter to determine if early replacement is necessary – during periods of higher HVAC system use, filters don’t always last as long.
- Upgrade the thermostat. If your home still has a manual thermostat installed, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for effortless energy savings. Upgrading to a programmable model allows you to program temperature adjustments around your household schedule, taking advantage of periods where heating use can be limited without causing discomfort. Even upgrading programmable thermostats can enhance energy savings – smart thermostats eliminate the need for scheduling, as they learn your schedule and automatically adjust temperature settings to maximize comfort and energy efficiency around the clock.
- Set thermostats wisely. Whenever seasons change, you need to adjust thermostat settings and temperature schedules for programmable models. Make sure your programmable thermostat’s daily schedules are set around your household’s current needs. Choose energy efficient temperature setpoints for periods when the home is occupied and when empty – 68 degrees is recommended when people are home, setting back temperatures to 58 to 53 degrees when everyone is away.
- Inspect and seal ductwork. Duct leaks account for 20 to 30 percent heating and cooling energy loss in the average home. Leaks also allow cold air from unconditioned areas to infiltrate and mix with heated air, lowering its temperature. If accessible, take a look at your ducts to inspect condition – look for obvious gaps, holes, and disconnections between joints. Make sure flexible ducts are in good condition, free of rips, tears, or crushed areas, and run with only a slightly curved path – they should not make sharp turns. Seal any leaks found and replace any damaged section of duct – some homeowners choose to seal ducts themselves using foil tape or mastic, while others choose professional duct sealing services. It may be to your advantage to hire an HVAC contractor to seal or repair ducts that are in hard to reach areas.
- Insulate ducts. A home’s ductwork typically runs through areas which do not receive heating – the air surrounding ducts can be much colder than the air traveling within them. When cold air from unconditioned spaces surrounds the ducts, the metal cools. Inside, the warm air is exposed to cooler metal, causing some heat loss before it reaches your living areas. Adding insulation to ducts, especially those running through unconditioned attics, basements, and crawlspaces, helps heated air retain its energy while travelling from the heating unit to your living areas.
- Check vents and registers. Vents and registers deliver heat from the supply ducts into living areas throughout your home. Ensure your living areas receives all the heat your furnace produces when you keep all vents and registers open and unobstructed. Make sure any register covers with louvers are opened and that all supply and return vents are not blocked by furniture, carpet, rugs, and other items.
- Clean radiators and baseboard heaters. Dust and dirt easily build up on heating components in living areas, which reduces heating efficiency. Dust on the surface of the radiator or baseboard heater acts as an insulator, which can prevent efficient radiation of heat out into the space.
- Maintain heating equipment. Furnaces and heat pumps should receive a professional tune up each heating season (furnaces need one annual tune up, while heat pumps need two per year because they are used for both heating and cooling seasons). The tasks performed during a tune up helps the heating system run more efficiently, resolving wear and malfunctions that may cause the system to consume excess energy.
- Clean exterior heat pump. For the heat pump to efficiently perform heat exchange, the area surrounding the outside unit must be free and clear of obstructions. Clean away any debris that have collected on the unit’s fins and remove vegetation growing up around the unit. Do not store patio furniture, grills, or other outdoor items up against the heat pump over the winter. When it snows, make sure to check the exterior heat pump and clear away any snow drifts. There should be at least two feet of clearance surrounding the heat pump.
- Install a humidifier. Use a whole home humidifier to add moisture to dry winter air, which keeps your home feeling warmer with less heat! Added moisture in the air helps your body keep heat close – many homeowners find they are able to turn down the heating system a few degrees and stay comfortable when humidifiers are in use. Installation of a whole house humidifier to work with your furnace or heat pump is fairly affordable and much cheaper than installing a new heating system.
- Limit exhaust fan use. Exhaust fans are useful for expelling hot and humid air from areas of a home such as bathrooms and kitchens. Using them during the winter, you also exhaust heat. Your heating system has to use more energy to create heat and replace what is lost. While you absolutely should use the exhaust fan while showering, cooking, and performing other activities that produce moisture, make sure you turn the fan off immediately when finished. Try to run them no more than 20 minutes at a time – don’t forget and allow it to run unnecessarily. Try shortening shower times and leaving bathroom doors cracked while showering to help reduce moisture buildup and the need to use the exhaust fan.
Energy Saving Home Improvement Projects
- Air seal the home. Air leaks aka drafts allow significant energy loss during the winter months, allowing heated air to escape the home while letting cool, outdoor air inside – heating systems must work more and use more energy to maintain temperatures in living areas. Inspect your home for air leaks, making sure to check common locations such as around doors, windows, and exterior pipe or wire penetrations, exterior corners, chimney roof and wall flashing, attic access and kneewalls, and other typical trouble spots. You can also perform a basic building pressurization test to identify areas of infiltration, or have a professional do so. Use caulk and weatherstripping where appropriate to seal air leaks. Add kickplates to exterior doors to prevent drafts.
- Increase insulation levels. Many homes are lacking in insulation, losing a great amount of heat because the home cannot retain it efficiently. The International Energy Efficiency Code (ECC) and the Indiana ECC have been changed in recent years, increasing minimum R-values for insulation in new homes – however, older homes are likely far under these minimums due to lower requirements in the past. Increasing insulation of attics, walls, basements, crawlspaces, and floors helps a home hold more heating energy inside, which reduces energy use and makes it easier to control temperatures indoors. Insulation can be added to existing insulation, increasing the R-value.
- Cover windows. Air leaks due to old, inefficient windows cause significant winter heat loss. Sealing windows with plastic prevents drafts as well as condensation buildup. Kits can be purchased at your preferred home improvement store.
- Insulate outlets. A common yet often unnoticed source of drafts is the home’s electrical outlets and switch boxes. Without insulation, outlets are essentially holes in the wall, and can let in air from outdoors as well as uninsulated wall cavities. Purchase foam gaskets that fit underneath the outlet or switch cover. Seal gaps between switch covers and walls with caulk.
- Fireplace damper care. The damper in a fireplace chimney should fit snugly to the chimney walls to prevent heat loss. Check the damper and seal it if needed. If you never use the fireplace, plug and seal the chimney to stop heat from escaping the home through the flue.
- Smart landscaping. Installing landscaping to create strategic windbreaks around the home can reduce winter heating bills. Trees and shrubs block the home from wind to reduce windchill. Dense evergreen trees and shrubs are popular choices.
Winter Changes That Help Save Money on Heating Bills
- Cover windows correctly. Gain free solar energy to heat rooms with southern exposures by keeping curtains and blinds open during the day. Once the sun goes down in these rooms, cover the windows to prevent heat loss as warm air makes contact with cold glass panes. Use energy efficient window coverings that allow natural light in while creating an insulating barrier between warm room air and the glass.
- Spot heating. In most homes, one furnace or heat pump is used to heat the entire home, and all areas are controlled the same by a single thermostat. If one room feels too cold, turning heat up at the thermostat increases heating for the entire home – your heating system wastes energy by creating heat for areas that do not need it. Instead, use energy efficient space heaters to add supplemental heating only to areas in need. Ceramic, infrared, convection, and radiator space heaters are available in a variety of options. Always choose a UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) labeled unit and practice good space heater safety when in use.
- Cover up indoors. Change the way you think and what you do about staying warm inside the home. Don’t let turning up the thermostat be your first reaction when you feel cold – instead, reach for a blanket or put on an extra layer first. If you still don’t feel warm enough, then adjust temperatures in the home. Many times, you’ll find an extra layer does the trick. Add an extra blanket to the bed to stay comfortable at lower room temperatures while you sleep.
- Use fireplace dampers correctly. Whenever a home’s woodburning fireplace is in use, the flue damper should be open to allow safe ventilation. However, once all embers have extinguished, close the flue damper to prevent heat loss. When the flue is left open, heat from the home is drawn up and out the chimney. Gas fireplaces that are not vent-free should always leave the damper open to prevent backdrafting and carbon monoxide buildup in the home. If your gas fireplace uses a standing pilot light, turn it off when not in use to conserve gas.
- Lower water heater temperature. In many homes, the water heater’s thermostat is set much higher than what is needed, which wastes energy and poses a greater risk of hot water burns. Many water heaters come with a default setting of 140 degrees and homeowners never change it – 120 degrees is plenty for most homes. Lowering the water heater’s thermostat saves energy by limiting standby heat losses associated with storing hot water as well as losses that occur during consumption of hot water throughout the home.
- Use draft stoppers. If you still notice drafts from your exterior doors after sealing, use a draft stopper when at home. These devices may be purchased or crafted using household materials. A draft stopper should run the length of the door and placed up against the bottom of the door when shut.
- Adjust ceiling fan direction. Ceiling fans make occupied areas feel warmer in the winter when used correctly. Set the fan to rotate clockwise. In this direction, air is drawn up and the updraft forces warm air that has gathered at the ceiling back down to the spaces where occupants are. Only use fans when someone is in the room, as the benefits only occur when someone is present to feel them – otherwise, running ceiling fans in unoccupied rooms wastes electricity.
Lower Monthly Heating Bills with Williams Comfort Air
Williams Comfort Air’s team of NATE-certified technicians help Indianapolis area homeowners improve and care for their heating systems for better energy efficiency and comfort throughout the winter season. Take steps lower heating costs when you contact us today. Williams Comfort Air knows how to save on heating – let us help you cut heating costs this winter!