WASHINGTON - Consumers can do more than hope for mild weather this winter as they watch heating oil and natural gas prices hit record highs. They can take actions that will reduce their bills and offset soaring energy prices. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) offers five practical tips that contractors can pass along to residential customers that involve minimal or no cost:

  • Change furnace filters. Monthly replacement of furnace filters in forced-air heating systems can save as much as 5 percent on heating bills, says ACEEE.

  • Insulate windows with coverings. Close blinds and drapes at night to keep cold air out and open them in the day to let warm sun in. Cover windows with insulating shades or plastic sheeting to cut down heat transfer from inside to outside.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to set different temperatures during the night and day. Program it to warm up the house in the morning, keep it cooler during the day while residents are away, and warm it up again in the evening until bedtime. Consumers can save about 2 percent on heating bills for every degree thermostats are turned down, ACEEE says.

  • Seal doors with draft-reducing weatherstripping and door sweeps to cut down on spaces where cold air can enter the house.

  • Lower the water heater's thermostat to the lowest level that meets hot water needs, typically to 120 degrees F (midway between the "low" and "medium" setting on many units). Each 10-degree reduction can save 3 percent to 5 percent on water heating costs, says the organization.

    In addition, consumers with older furnaces should consider replacing them with a new, energy-efficient model. "Consumers who replace an older heating system can yield savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, particularly if the existing system is more than 20 years old," said Jennifer Thorne Amann, co-author of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings and an ACEEE senior associate.

    The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, 8th Edition, can be viewed at www.aceee.org/consumerguide. It can also be ordered in hard copy for $13.95 ppd. via the Web site or from ACEEE Publications, 1001 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 801, Washington, DC 20036.

    Publication date: 11/08/2004