smart spending

Lower scorching winter heat bills

If you have a few hundred dollars to spend on making your home more energy efficient, you can expect to see a return on investment in one to two years, according to Szoradi. Consider the following:

1. Buy a programmable thermostat.  At a cost of about $100, a programmable thermostat lets you lower the temperature of your home while you're at work and set it to rise before you come back home. The savings can be substantial since you can save between 5 percent and 15 percent by rolling the thermostat back 10 degrees to 15 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy which offers an online savings calculator.

2. Have your heating system serviced.  Not only will servicing your heating system help ensure that it lasts as long as possible, but spending a couple hundred dollars for a tuneup can ensure that it runs as efficiently as possible, saving you money in the process. Get a tuneup every year for oil-fired systems, every two years for gas furnaces and three years for heat pumps, advises Randy Scott, vice president of product systems management for heating system provider Trane.

3. Blanket your water heater.  Place your hand on your water heater. If it feels warm to your touch that means it's not well insulated and is losing heat, Szoradi says. A $20 water heater blanket could give it the insulation that it needs, but first check the unit manufacturer's specifications, warns Marston. "Some don't recommend the blanket and will void the warranty if the blanket is used," he says.

4. Change your window treatments.  About one third of a home's heat loss comes from windows and doors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Add insulation to your windows by purchasing double cellular shades and thinking in layers, for example, adding thick draperies in addition to blinds or shades.


5. Enlist the aid of an efficiency expert.  If you have a few hundred dollars to spend, consider hiring an energy auditor to use special equipment to identify areas of air leakage in your home. Armed with that information, you can have them correct the problems or you can caulk and weatherproof your home yourself. Seal ducts in attics, crawlspaces and unfinished basements and do wonders for your heating bill.

6. Humidify efficiently.  Room and home-size electric humidifiers are widely available -- ranging from $25 for 700 square feet to less than $100 to cover as much as 2,000 square feet.

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