By State Senator Julie Lassa
As temperatures dip this time of year our heating bills begin to rise, and this year’s bite to the household budget may be especially painful. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a colder, snowier winter this year. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that people across the Midwest who heat with natural gas can expect increases in heating costs in the range of 30 percent. Those who rely on other heating fuels, including propane and heating oil, should also prepare for higher bills this winter. With that in mind, it’s worth giving your home a heating checkup and taking steps today that will keep you comfortable as you conserve energy and keep your heating bills down.
Those steps can be as simple and inexpensive as changing the filter in your furnace regularly. A dirty air filter makes your furnace work harder, which makes it less efficient and more expensive to operate. Along with less efficient heating, an unchanged filter can cause more dust to circulate in your home and can lead to expensive repairs. Most manufacturers recommend that you check your filter every month. You should especially make a point of changing it at the start of the heating season. It only costs a few dollars and can improve your energy efficiency as much as 15 percent.
Many of us have a routine maintenance schedule for our vehicles, but we forget that our home’s heating systems need regular maintenance too. Having a professional checkup will make sure that your furnace is running at maximum efficiency. It can also head off hazards such as carbon monoxide leaks and fires. This costs a little more, but with an increase in efficiency of up to ten percent, it will pay for itself in lower heating bills.
Turning the thermostat down at night or when the house is empty is a common strategy to save energy, but it’s easy to forget. Installing a programmable thermostat is a good solution; set it once and let a computer chip adjust the heating day and night without your having to think about it. It also lets you begin rewarming the house before you get out of bed or home from work. This is another adjustment that pays for itself in energy savings.
Once you have your heating system operating efficiently, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t losing that heat through drafty doors and windows. Caulking and weather stripping are low-cost fixes most homeowners can do themselves. Older or inefficient windows and doors may have to be replaced. Although this is a more significant investment, it’s one that can save you hundreds of dollars a year on heating and cooling costs.
Fortunately, there is help available for those who want to make their homes more energy efficient. The Focus on Energy program, a partnership between the State of Wisconsin and energy utilities, can help you arrange an energy assessment of your home if you heat with natural gas or electricity. Depending on your income, the assessment itself may be free and may enable you to save thousands on energy efficiency upgrades which can save you up to 20 percent on your energy costs. Focus on Energy also offers a cash back rewards program for installing approved heating and cooling equipment. To learn more, go to focusonenergy.org or call (800) 762-7077.
The Wisconsin Division of Energy Services offers energy assistance to qualified Wisconsin low-income residential households. Such services include emergency fuel assistance, emergency furnace repair or replacement, weatherization, counseling on energy efficiency and budgeting, and other help. To find out if you qualify, call 1-866-HEATWIS (432-8947).
It’s shocking, but researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimate that the average home wastes 45 percent of the energy it uses. Not only does that hit consumers directly in the pocket book, it wastes fuel. There are many good reasons to upgrade your home’s energy efficiency besides just staying warm and comfortable on Wisconsin’s frigid winter nights. But isn’t that reason enough?