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Winterize to Stay Warm, Lower Bills, Save Energy

Make the time, turn it down

As a child of the energy-crisis 1970s, I remember my dad hollering at me to keep my mitts off the thermostat and to put on a sweater. This advice holds true today in the energy-conscious (and cash-strapped) twenty-tens.

Each year, I take a few more baby steps to "winterize" my house so I can be comfortable while keeping the PSEG bill under control. Winterizing means closing up the tiny gaps where cold air gets in and warm air leaks out, as well as other energy-saving improvements.

Some are easy and relatively low-cost, such as adding foam and vinyl weather-stripping, sealing windows and air conditioners with clear plastic and caulking. Other fixes, like purchasing a new furnace or water heater, require a significant up-front financial investment but save money and energy down the road.

Windows and door drafts account for ten to 25 percent of home heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, so tightening these up can immediately reduce your energy bill. How much you'll save depends on your home's size and your personal needs, but here are some ideas to get you started.

Make the Time

Schedule time this month for these tasks before the cold weather freezes your enthusiasm and the holiday rush takes off.

Turn It Down

When you aren't home and at night, turn down the heat. A programmable thermostat makes this simple. Replacing a thermostat is not a DIY project for most people, so call a licensed electrician for assistance. Already have one but don't use the settings? The Energy Star website states that a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs. Download the manual, take an hour to figure it out and put that money back in your pocket.

The U.S. Department of Energy website advises that home water heaters should be set at 120 degrees. Turn it down if yours is set higher. (This tip can also prevent scalding accidents.)

If you have a fireplace, close the damper when not in use.

Dampen Drafts

Hold a lit candle to door and window openings to detect drafts. Where you feel cold air or see the flame flickering, mark that spot for caulking or sealing.

Steps for a better-sealed door include adding weather-stripping around the inside of the door frame. An insulated door sweep along the bottom edge also makes a tighter fit.

Crystal-clear plastic installed over drafty windows insulates without sacrificing looks.

For homes with an attic, remember that the attic opening is another exterior door. I am a satisfied owner of an attic stair insulator cover made by Battic Door. This simple product is an insulated heavy-duty cardboard box that covers the attic stair door opening on the attic side. It took just minutes to put together and install with no tools and I could feel the immediate draft reduction.

Local retailers, including the Kmart at 235 Prospect Ave. and Schneider Hardware at 276 Main St., sell window sealing kits, foam weather-stripping, caulk for exterior sealing around windows and doors, insulating foam inserts for electrical outlet covers and other winterization items.

Service the Furnace

Get your furnace checked soon by an HVAC technician or licensed plumber. Confirm how and when to replace air filters as needed.

Up Your Insulation

Adding insulation is an easy energy-conserving project that puts a warm hat on your house's head. A terrific Energy Star air-sealing and attic insulation guide is here.

Save Now & Save Later

If you've been have been thinking about replacing your gas furnace or water heater, learn about New Jersey's Clean Energy Program that offers $300 rebates for qualified energy-efficient purchases.

Learn More

  • Follow these U.S Department of Energy tips for a home energy assessment.
  • Read energy saving ideas and rebate information from New Jersey's Clean Energy Program.
  • Borrow a nifty Kill a Watt device from the West Orange Public Library to measure your appliances' energy efficiency, consumption and expense. (I'm measuring my space heater's output to see what it costs to keep my home office tropically warm.)
  • Research federal tax credits for energy efficiency improvements.

Now that I pay my own energy bills, I'm eyeballing the thermostat and wondering how long I'll last until I turn on the heat. My dad will be proud to hear that. 

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