WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected this winter’s heating bills to be significantly higher than last year. The crunch is due to tight production capacity, weak petroleum inventories, and high worldwide fuel demand, plus predictions of a colder winter. By acting now, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) says that consumers can save money and improve their comfort with some simple energy-saving measures. In cold climates, even deeper savings can be realized in many regions by investing in energy-efficient heating equipment that will reduce energy bills now and into the future.

ACEEE offers the following tips that contractors can pass along to customers and prospects:

1.Seal air leaks in ceilings/attic floors, at baseboards and electric outlets in exterior walls, and around exterior windows and doors.

2.Seal leaky air ducts at joints, starting at the furnace air handler, and insulate ducts that run through unheated basements or attics.

3.Hire a professional to tune up existing heating equipment, including changing air filters.

4.Turn off lights and home office and entertainment equipment when not in use.

5.Install an Energy Star-rated thermostat and program it to set back temperatures when you are asleep or away.

6.Insulate hot water pipes leading from your water heater, and install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators.

7.Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.

8.Consider replacing an old water heater.

9.Check your attic insulation and consider improving the R-value to R-38.

10.Invest in energy-efficient, right-sized heating equipment with the help of a good contractor.

Households in the Northeast and Midwest will be hit hardest this year by higher fuel prices. In the Northeast, households with oil- or propane-burning furnaces and boilers can expect to pay on average 21 percent more to keep warm, with EIA predicting oil prices in the range of $2.88/gallon. This price is up 16 percent from last year and almost double the $1.50 seen in 2004. Likewise, households that burn natural gas in northern regions will see 13 percent higher fuel bills. “Households in the North should assess whether to replace their furnace or boiler now, before the season starts,” said ACEEE Senior Associate Jennifer Thorne Amann. If the existing boiler or furnace is older than about 20 years, and/or has a standing pilot light, it is obsolete and wasting large amounts of energy, stated ACEEE. Households in cold and even moderate climates should consider replacing such a unit with a new, high-efficiency condensing unit, the organization noted. In much of the country, high-efficiency gas boilers and furnaces (with AFUE ratings of 88 percent and higher) can be highly cost-effective.

Residents in the South and West that depend on electricity for heat can expect a 4 percent increase in heating costs. In these climates, the best options to save this winter are to tighten up the house and invest in a high-efficiency heat pump, particularly in houses that currently use baseboard heaters, said ACEEE. This upgrade will not only save in the winter, but throughout the cooling season as well. Southern and Western households with natural gas will get the most “bang for the buck,” noted ACEEE, by hiring a professional to tune up their furnace, repairing ductwork, and investing in a high-efficiency furnace fan.

Publication date:10/22/2007