Thursday, September 18, 2008

How to Combat Higher Home Heating Bills

This morning's Indianapolis Star had a front page headline stating "Heating bills to rise 15% to 25% this winter." In reaction to higher wholesale natural gas prices, utilities all over America are raising their rates, again. Natural gas prices have doubled since 2000 and, in spite of what T. Boone Pickens might want to sell you, they will probably continue to do so.

So what can you do about that? Since the stock market is a roulette wheel right now, I suggest you invest in personal energy security and declare some small measure of independence from your gas bill. You have a few weekends between now and when that furnace really starts firing up. If you are not yet ready to achieve net-zero-energy, here are some simple, do-it-yourself things you can do to get your 15% to 25% back this winter. You will gain greater physical, fiscal, and psychological comfort along the way.

Start with an opportunity analysis. You can do your own home energy audit, or hire an expert to snoop for your biggest energy holes. If you do your own, you might want to play with some online tools like Home Energy Saver or Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick.

Opportunities you will likely find for saving gas include the usual caulking and weatherstripping; and adding insulation; tuning up or replacing old furnaces, water heaters and appliances. Some things you may not have thought of include sealing and insulating ductwork in unheated crawl spaces and attics (potentially getting your 15% to 25% back), changing to instantaneous water heaters, or installing low-flow faucet and shower heads (saves hot water and gas). Other simple do-it-yourself fixes include installing a programmable thermostat so you can automatically set the temperature lower when you are not around or when you are sleeping.

Depending on which state you live in and your local utility company, you may have opportunities for grants and tax incentives for home energy improvements. Check with the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. This is where you might find some significant cash for things like geothermal heat pump systems and solar hot water heaters.

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