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Reduce energy costs this winter

The recent chill in the air can make homeowners appreciate the warmth generated by their heating system, yet many will be concerned about the cost of heating their home this winter, said Bruce Snead, Kansas State University Research and Extension and residential energy specialist.

About 45 percent of Kansas' residential energy bill goes to home heating, said Snead, who estimated that homeowners who are heating with electricity will likely see an increase of about $40 overall for the season in comparison to last winter's bill.

Homeowners who are heating with natural gas should see bills that are about the same as last year, while a homeowner using heating oil should see a decrease of about $270 overall, and a homeowner using propane should see a decrease of about $150, Snead said.

These are anticipated costs, said Snead, who offered tips to help homeowners hold down energy costs this winter:

--Invest in an annual or bi-annual tune-up for the furnace to check belts, blowers, burners and filters.

--Every degree you permanently lower the thermostat can save up to 3 percent (as much as $30 or more, depending on the fuel used to heat the home) on overall costs.

--Install a programmable thermostat to save as much as 10 percent of home heating cost annually. The initial cost (about $50 to $100) is offset by the savings in heating the home when the family is present, and lowering the temperature (to 55 to 62, for example) when the family is away for the day and/or asleep.

--Fill the gaps (and air leaks) around trim, windows, doors, pipes in and out of the home and where the floor rests on the foundation with caulking or other materials. Stretching a heat shrinkable film over windows can offer a temporary seal on windows without caulking.

--Install insulation in attic and crawl spaces.

--Weather strip attic hatch or door to prevent heat loss.

--Keep glass doors and fireplace damper closed when the fireplace is not in use.

Trying to find savings by closing off a few vents in unused areas of the home rarely achieves significant results, and Snead cautioned homeowners that closing off too many rooms may cause duct leakage in other areas or back pressure that will effect overall furnace operation.

If rooms are allowed to become too cold, Snead said, homeowners may note potentially damaging condensation on exterior walls, windowsills, ceilings and behind furniture.

Space heaters also can be problematic, the residential energy specialist said.

"A space heater will only heat one or two spaces, while the rest of the house may be cold," Snead said. "Space heaters typically use electricity, which is a more expensive energy source, and must be used according to instructions to minimize risks of fire."

For additional energy savings, he suggested that homeowners:

--Set the temperature on the water heater at 130 degrees.

--Use cold water for laundry.

--Replace the most used, and eventually all the light bulbs in the home with compact fluorescent bulbs, and

--Turn off the lights when not in use.

Snead also recommends evaluating energy costs to operate and/or estimated cost-savings before buying new appliances, windows, and heating and cooling systems.

Products that have earned an ENERGY STAR Label qualify as energy-efficient products, said Snead, who noted that comparison shopping can be simplified by checking www.energystar.com/.

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