Yes it’s easy to forget, but it’s important to replace or clean furnace filters once a month during the heating season. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand. Here’s a worry-saving tip: Mark a monthly check on your calendar.
Also consider switching to a permanent filter, which will reduce waste and hassle. Did you know that disposable fiberglass filters trap a measly 10 to 40 percent of debris? Electostatic filters trap around 88% and are much better at controlling the bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen that cause illness and irritation. They cost $50 to $1,000 or more. Another good choice is a genuine HEPA filter (like the one pictured), which can remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles. HEPA filters are based on Department of Energy standards. But avoid “HEPA-like” filters, which can be significantly less effective.
If your entire furnace is in need of replacement, it will cost a lot more—but replacing an inefficient burner for a modern machine will save you every month through the heating season. Be sure to take advantage of federal tax credits for new furnaces, which can cover 10 percent of cost up to $500 or a specific amount from $50 to $300.
2Run Fans in Reverse
Most people think of fans only when they want to be cool, but many ceiling units come with a handy switch that reverses the direction of the blades. Counterclockwise rotation produces cooling breezes, while switching to clockwise makes it warmer. Air pooled near the ceiling is circulated back into the living space—cutting your heating costs as much as 10 percent!
3Winterize Your A/C and Water Lines
This one’s really easy, and it will even save you a few pennies next summer, too: Simply drain any hoses and air conditioner pipes, and make sure you don’t have excess water pooled in equipment. If your A/C has a water shutoff valve, go ahead and turn that off.
Similarly, make sure any hoses are drained and stowed away neatly. Turn off exterior water spigots. It’s also a good idea to seal any water leaks around the place—and don’t forget to remove any window A/C units and store them so you don’t invite cold drafts all winter.
If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, the federal government will reimburse 10 percent of cost up to $500, or a specific amount from $50 to $300. This tax credit will expire December 31, 2017, so get it now.
4Turn Down Your Water Heater
While many conventional water heaters are set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit by installers, most households don’t need that much steam, and end up paying for it—in dollars and the occasional scalding burn. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (or lower) would reduce your water heating costs by 6 to 10 percent.
If you start to wonder why you need a tank at all, then you may be ready for a tankless water heater, or to go solar. If you are in the market for a new water heater, take advantage of the federal tax credit, which pays 30 percent of cost with no upper limit. Tax credits for Solar Energy Systems are available at 30 percent through December 31, 2019.
5Dodge the Draft(s)
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5 to 30 percent of your energy use. Start simple and adopt that old Great Depression fixture—the draft snake, which you can easily make yourself. Just place a rolled bath towel under a drafty door, or make a more attractive DIY draft snake with googly eyes, felt tongues and the like. You can use any scraps of fabric, even neckties, and fill with sand or kitty litter for heft.
6Install Storm Doors and Windows
The simple act of installing a storm door can increase energy efficiency by 45 percent by sealing drafts and reducing air flow. Storm doors also offer greater flexibility for letting light and ventilation enter your home. Look for Energy Star-certified models.
Similarly, storm windows can make a huge difference when the cold wind starts blowing. It may be a pain, but it is well worth it to get them out of the shed or attic and install them for the season. (Make sure each is securely shut—they don’t do much good if you leave them in the up position by mistake!)
Federal tax credits are available at 10 percent of cost (not including installation costs), up to $200 for windows and skylights and up to $500 for doors. Cumulative maximum tax credits for windows, doors and skylights for all years combined is $500.
7Give Your Heating System a Tune-Up
You probably already know that cars need periodic tune-ups in order to run their best. Well, the same is true for heating equipment. Keeping your furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted will reduce energy use, saving up to 5 percent of heating costs.
The good news is many utilities offer free annual checkups by qualified technicians—but you often have to call early, as HVAC crews get backed up once heating season starts. Some furnace manufacturers and dealers also offer free or discounted inspections.
If your entire furnace is in need of replacement, it will cost a lot more—but replacing an inefficient burner for a modern machine will save you money every month through the heating season. Be sure to take advantage of federal tax credits for new furnaces, which can cover 10 percent of cost up to $500 or a specific amount from $50 to $300. This tax credit expires December 31, 2017, so act now.
8Mind That Thermostat
It’s easy to forget to turn down the heat when you leave the building, but doing so is one of the surest ways to save money. Most households shell out 50 to 70 percent of their energy budgets on heating and cooling, so why pay for what no one uses?
For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you’ll save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill. Make it easier with a programmable thermostat. They are widely available for as little as $50, and the average family will save $180 a year with one.
Go a step further and ask your local utility if it’s making smart meters available in your area as part of recent federal smart grid investments.