Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter is on it's way

for Michigan, that means icy cold wind, snow, sleet, and through the roof heating bills. The first year we lived in this house, our winter heat bill nailed us hard. We moved in October 2004. Our December gas bill that year was $450. We were not expecting that one.

Over the years we have learned some secrets to keeping the bill within a manageable range. They are still high, running $200-$250 some months, but considering how much the cost of energy has gone up in the last 5 years, I don't think we have done too bad.

1. Turn the heat down. Seems pretty obvious. When we had the old dial style thermostat, we pretty much kept it at 62 degrees day and night. That is actually pretty chilly. My hands were always cold and I was not really a happy camper. Last year we invested in a digital programmable thermostat. It cost us about $30 and allows us to adjust it as needed. We had it set at 58 at night and when nobody was home (work and school) and 64 the rest of the time. Still chilly but immensely more comfortable. Our heat bill will probably be higher this year as the girls and I are home all day, but it's still handy to have.

2. Insulate. Another obvious suggestion but an expensive initial investment. We put several hundred dollars worth of insulation in the roof last year. It definitely helped. The snow stopped melting off that portion of the roof, which is a good sign. We still have another portion of the house that needs it, but thanks to roof project 2009 we may have to delay it a bit.

3. Seal the cracks. Our back door has been terrible. In all honesty we need a new door, jamb, and all. However, that is not yet in the budget so every year we apply new foam along the outside edges and a new door sweep as ours manages to disintegrate every year. We also check the outlets and random holes the previous owner liked to leave...

4. Plastic up those windows. It looks dorky as hell, and may not be necessary for those who have nice new thermal windows. We have a mix of new and old, and the old ones let in all kinds of cold air. Plastic helps. Just don't burn anything in the oven while it's up because there is no opening up the windows after that...

5. Seal off unused areas. I don't know how many normal people actually have this going on in their house. We came into this house knowing it needed some work. We underestimated. One of the things that needs to be done is to totally renovate the master bedroom and bathroom. We are actually staying in the smaller bedroom right now and the girls are staying in the very big, oversized laundry room so that we can keep that room sealed off. We just did this last winter and between that and the insulation, I am pretty confident that was more than $150 a month saved by itself. We simply don't heat those rooms. Just make sure if you find yourself in bizarre home situations of this sort that you remember to turn the water off to the master bathroom or you may find yourself with a slight water problem. Not that I would know anything about that...

6. Install an energy efficient furnace. Not that we have done this yet, but I imagine it will help when we finally get around to it. We found out that our furnace is not only older and definitely nowhere in the realm of energy star compliant, but also only meant to heat an addition. A furnace meant to heat 500-600 sq feet was overworking itself to heat about 1600. No wonder we saw improvement when we cut down the amount of area we were heating. That is on the list of things to get taken care of ASAP. Since I don't exactly like the idea of freezing my butt off while a new one is installed, that is something we can save for springtime. If the old girl will just last us one more winter, that will work for me.

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