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7 tips to save heat and money this winter

Here are a few ideas and tools to keep the cold out of your home and the savings in your wallet.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 5, 2010 4:16PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Last May, we gave you "13 cool tips for lower energy bills." Now that winter is approaching, many of the same tips apply to lowering your heating bill -- like cleaning your air filters and installing insulation. Here are some other quick tips and tools to help you prepare.

Use free online tools. Here's a Web-based tool from the U.S. Department of Energy that can help you save energy. You input your house's specifics and it produces ways you might save. Microsoft Hohm is another site that can help you map out an energy-saving strategy and compare your energy usage to that in similar homes in your area. Post continues after video.

Check out available tax credits before it's too late.

Tax credits are available for certain types of energy-saving home improvements, and they're expiring on Dec. 31.


Visit the Energy Star website to see the details of what qualifies, but below are the basics. The first list includes things that qualify for a tax credit of 30% of the cost, but only up to $1,500. The second lists improvements that qualify for a tax credit of 30% of the cost with no cap.


Qualifying improvements: 30% of the cost, $1,500 cap.

  • Biomass stoves.
  • Heating, ventilating, air conditioning.
  • Insulation.(Note: Tax credit does not include installation costs, but you can do it yourself and get the credit for the materials.)
  • Roofs (metal and asphalt).
  • Water heaters (non-solar).
  • Windows and doors.

Important: Only products that meet certain energy-efficiency qualifications are eligible for the credit. To find ones that qualify, either check the Energy Star website or simply ask the retailers you're dealing with.


Qualifying improvements: 30% of the cost, no cap.

  • Solar energy systems.
  • Geothermal heat pumps.
  • Small wind turbines.

As above, only products that meet certain criteria will qualify. Check the Energy Star website or other sources, like purveyors of these products, for details.


Plant trees instead of burning them. As the weather gets colder, leaves fall and so do prices for trees as nurseries try to get rid of inventory before it perishes. You probably already know that trees save you money in the summer as they shade your house from the sun. (The U.S. Forest Service estimates that three 25-foot-tall trees can slash summer air-conditioning costs for some homes by up to 25%.) Those trees also provide a wind break in winter that can cut heating costs by the same amount. (Use this Tree Benefits Estimator to get a more precise figure.)


Cost: As much as $200 per tree planted for you, or free if you plant them yourself and your city has a tree program, which many do, from Rochester, N.Y., to West Sacramento, Calif. Call City Hall and find out.


Go high-tech with your thermostat. Spending a few hundred dollars on a remote programmable thermostat can pay for itself in one chilly winter. They vary in price and features, but they all allow you to save money by automatically changing the temperature settings at night and when you're out of the house. Some, like the CEM24, let you adjust the temperature using your phone. Others, like the Honeywell Prestige 7-Day Programmable, even have iPhone or iPad apps. And many let you use the Internet to go online and, say, lower the heat to 60 degrees while you're at work and then raise it back to 70 when you're heading home.


Cost: $200 for the low end and up to $350 for full-color displays with all the bells and whistles. Installing a thermostat isn't rocket science, but if you're not handy you may also have to pay for installation by a professional.


Focus on your windows. It's good advice to replace drafty windows with high-efficiency Energy Star windows, but that's expensive -- often hundreds per window. If you have the budget for it,  now's the time, thanks to the tax credits I mentioned above. But if your budget won't allow it this year, explore less expensive options. One example: Interior storm windows can be cheap, and save nearly as much on your heating bill -- 25% or more.
Cost: As little as $7 for a low-tech, do-it-yourself plastic interior storm window kit to $150 for the spring-loaded Boomerang Energy Products Energy Panel. 


Find leaks and plug them. Is the heat leaking out of your house? If you can get it scheduled, some utility companies will conduct a free, thorough test. You can also hire a pro to do it (which can cost up to $400). A high-tech middle ground is the Black & Decker Thermal Heat Detector, which can show you heat escaping as it happens, especially in vulnerable areas like outlets and lighting fixtures. Then you can seal the leaks with caulk or molding. Customer reviews of the THD have been very positive.


Cost: About $50 from your local hardware store, but see if you can rent one from a local tool-rental store, or at least split the cost with several neighbors.


You can also use the low-tech but time-tested method of finding leaks: Simply hold a burning candle near openings and look for a flicker that reveals movement of air.


Do all the little things that add up to big savings. While you've probably seen many of these tips, a refresher course on the basics never hurts. Here's a good list from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable when home. Dress for the season: Lounging around your house in shorts during the winter is expensive.
  • Lower your thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees when you're not home or in bed. That alone can cut your heating bill by up to 10%.
  • Make sure your furnace is properly maintained.
  • Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area.

More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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