Frigid temperatures can cause indoor heating troubles and unexpected costs for unprepared homeowners. In October 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook predicted rising heating bill costs this winter for many U.S. consumers. The EIA anticipates greater expenses in households using natural gas, propane and heating oil; increasing by 3, 7 and 8 percent, respectively.
With a variety of heating systems available, the Better Business Bureau offers winter-proofing basics to help deflect rising energy costs:
Furnaces: Most homes in the U.S. are heated by furnaces or boilers. Ensure that thermostats and pilot lights are functioning properly on furnaces; clean and replace filters every month or as needed. Older furnaces may be due for replacement after 10 to 15 years. Hire an inspector to make sure it is in safe working order.
Heating Ducts: Effective duct systems are designed to distribute air properly throughout the home, keeping all rooms at a comfortable temperature. However, design deficiencies, leakage and poor insulation can cause duct systems to lose efficiency and drain energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Simple upgrades such as sealing leaks, adding insulation to exposed ductwork, inserting new return-air grilles or installing jumper ducts can make a big difference. Clean ducts at least once every two years. For help, consult a qualified professional.
Chimneys and Fireplaces: Every year, preferably before the coldest season, have wood-burning systems inspected by chimney sweeps. Be wary of animals, debris and leaves in outdoor units. On chimneys, close dampers when fireplaces are not in use. Replace old or leaky dampers, which can add hundreds of dollars to yearly heating bills.
Air Leaks: Be wary, most homes leak heat due to worn weather stripping and peeled or cracked caulking. Inspect and repair leaky doors and windows. Consider hanging thermal curtains on windows. If needed, replace worn or missing shingles and seal cracks in the home's foundation.
$mart Tip: Install programmable thermostats to reduce heating costs.