By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Although Oklahoma is still enjoying the unusually warm weather of fall, it will not be long until the chill of winter is felt both outside and in our homes, according to Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.
“In order to keep your home comfortable in the winter without spending a fortune on heating costs, now is the time to get your home ready for the winter season, Peek said.
“Home energy costs can consume a large portion of your budget,” she added. “There are steps homeowners should take now in an effort to cut costs while still keeping your home warm and cozy.”
“You sure don’t want to be outside fixing gaps in the chimney or caulking around windows and doors when the wind is blowing 40 miles per hour and the temperature is below freezing,” Peek said. “Take advantage of this early fall weather to make any needed repairs.”
Peek suggests that homeowners schedule a service for their home heating system before the temperature drops. In the event there are any problems, getting the system checked out now will help ensure a warm home environment when it is time to turn the heat on.
One of the easiest things to do to help cut your winter heating bill, she says, is to simply adjust the temperature on your heating system. “When you are home, set the thermostat at least to 68 degrees, as recommended by the Department of Energy,”
Another recommendation is that while you are asleep or away from home it is wise to turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours. This can result in a savings of 5 to 15 percent a year on a homeowner’s heating bill — a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.
The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.
The more you turn back, the more homeowners can save on their utility bills.
“Using a programmable thermostat can make it easier to adjust the temperature in your home when you’re not there,” said Amanda Ford, Oklahoma County Family and Consumer Sciences Educator.
Seal air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around the chimney and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulking or weather stripping around leaky doors and windows.
Ford suggests taking advantage of passive heat, which is using the sun’s energy for heating your living space.
“The advantages of passive heat are two-fold,” she said. “First, it’s environmentally friendly. And second, it’s cost effective and can help reduce the cost of your winter energy bills.”
Keep drapes and curtains open during the day, especially on windows facing south and west. Avoid placing light-blocking objects in front of the windows, which will block the sun.
While a cozy fire in the fireplace can be warm and inviting on a cold winter’s night, keep the damper closed when it is not in use. An open damper is like keeping a window open in the winter. Cold air comes in and warm air escapes.
One way to maximize the heat from the fireplace is to install a heat-air exchange system that blows warm air back into the room. However, if the fireplace isn’t used at all, consider plugging and sealing the chimney flue.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5 to 30 percent of your energy use. One simple fix is the ‘draft snake,’ which you can easily make yourself. Just place a rolled bath towel under a drafty door. Xcraps of fabric — even neckties – can be used when filled with sand or kitty litter for heft.
Many ceiling units come with a switch that reverses the direction of the blades. Counterclockwise rotation produces cooling breezes while switching to clockwise makes it warmer. Air trapped near the ceiling is circulated back into the living space which can cut heating costs as much as 10 percent.
Other tips for winterizing your home include changing furnace filters, turning down the temperature on water heaters, and installing storm doors and windows.
“It’s understandable if you want to spend these last few weeks enjoying the warm weather, but by taking care of these issues now, you’ll save yourself time and money, as well as avoid frustration in the future,” Ford said.
For more information, visit www.energy.gov/energysaver.