E.G. Smith has been proudly serving the heating oil, equipment and air conditioning needs of Berks County, PA since 1923.
Preparing for Winter: Prepare your home now - enjoy savings all winter long
According to the Energy Department, the average American household spends more than a third of its energy budget just for home heat. Here in Berks County, that percentage could be higher; after all, our winters are colder than those in Florida and Arizona.
By now, most consumers realize that energy prices will be subject to volatility this winter, no matter how you heat - natural gas, electricity, heating oil or propane. This winter, homeowners will see a greater benefit from preparing their homes to cut down on energy usage.
Here are ideas we regularly share with E.G. Smith customers on how to trim their heating costs:
Seek peak efficiency
If your heating system operates at its optimal efficiency, it uses less energy, which can translate into big savings. According to one Environmental Protection Agency estimate, regularly maintained heating units can save a typical household as much as 13 percent every heating season. Regular maintenance can also extend the life of a heating unit heating system by 20 to 30 percent.
The Department of Energy recommends having gas-fired equipment serviced every other year and having oil-fired boilers (about 40% of Berks homes have them) professionally cleaned and tuned once a year.
When you schedule regular maintenance, make sure you work with an established company that has experienced technicians. At E.G. Smith Inc., we require all our technicians to earn a Gold Certification, our industry's quality assurance program. Be sure your provider has a similar requirement.
There are other basic steps you can take to improve system efficiency. Before heating season, clean your warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators. Make sure they are not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes. You'll also want to set your thermostat as low as you can while still keeping your family comfortable.
During the heating season, be sure to clean or replace your furnace filters, if your system has them, once a month. Also consider purchasing a programmable thermostat. By trimming back from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day, you can cut your heating bill up to 10 percent.
Stretch out your payments
The Energy Information Administration advises homeowners to consider budget payment plans that help stabilize your monthly energy bills. Many local providers have established programs that help you manage your winter energy costs.
At E.G. Smith, Inc., for example, our program spreads a customer's payments for heating oil over 11 months. The idea is to help the homeowner avoid a big bill for a single oil delivery in the dead of winter.
Depending on your situation, there are a couple big-ticket items you may want to consider. According to Energy Star, a government program, replacing older windows with new high-efficiency windows will save the average homeowner $350 a year in our region. If heating costs rise, those savings would increase.
Finally, if your system is more than 15 years old, you should consider the benefits of a new, high-efficiency heating system. Newer oil heat systems operate at 84 percent efficiency or higher, which can result in savings of up to 25 percent in heating costs, according the Energy Department. Replacing older natural gas systems and heat pumps can offer similar benefits.
More and more homeowners are exploring this option. This year, E.G. Smith installed more new systems than ever before, and other local providers have reported a similar experience.
Plug the gaps
While you still have time, make an effort to seal your home. Use weather stripping on doors and windows - among the most common locations for heat loss. Also, check to make sure you have adequate attic insulation, or have a professional do it.
These simple steps can pay off big. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, you can reduce your heating and cooling needs by up to 10% by investing in proper insulation and sealing air leaks.
A couple other areas in your home get less attention, but can be responsible for significant heat loss. First, check to make sure your heating ducts are insulated. If not, your home may be losing up to 25% of its heat before it ever reaches the vents, according to the National Oilheat Research Alliance.
Another often-neglected area: the chimney. Have a professional check your fireplace for loose or missing mortar, which can lead to heat loss. Also, make sure your damper closes tightly. If not, your chimney will be letting warm (and expensive) air escape all winter long.
Will it take time to follow these steps? Sure. But you may be handsomely rewarded by the savings you'll receive over the coming winter.