Kat’s Money Corner: Prevent a budget meltdown from high heating bills

12/17/2013 8:00 AM

12/17/2013 9:27 AM

Hard to believe winter isn’t even here yet, officially. Even though winter is only three months long, heating costs add up to about half of your annual utility bill. Well, whatever we saved during a mostly warm November has likely gone out the window thanks to this frigid December. Yet it’s still early enough to make some changes that will pay off the rest of the season.

R you ready?It’s difficult and costly to add insulation to finished walls, but the opposite is true for many floors and most attics. Find the proper “R” value (the measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it) for whatever space you can access, hit the hardware store and add as necessary. Here is a good tool for calculating your homes “R” Value - http://www.lowes.com/cd_Blown+In+R+Value+Insulation+Calculator_477243886_

You should have between 7 and 11 inches of insulation in your floors and attic. It makes a huge difference!

Tune it up

. If it’s been a couple years, get it checked out, cleaned and tuned up. A happy furnace doesn’t have to work as hard and will live longer, saving you now and down the road.

Plug the gaps and Stop the leaks. Outside, check out areas around windows, window wells, spigots and air-conditioning piping. All of which can let in a tremendous amount of cold air. Simply tour the exterior of your home and apply caulk or expandable latex foam spray wherever you see any cracks, gaps or holes ( http://building.dow.com/na/en/products/sealants/gapscracks.htm). Caulking can also be useful

inside your home. Precious heat can easily escape through gaps around windows, exterior doors and even electrical outlets. Again, simply use a standard caulking gun to apply caulk to any areas where you can see a crack or gap or feel a draft. For large cracks, go with the spray foam.

Wrap it up. If your water heater is in an unheated space like an unfinished basement, wrap it in an insulating water heater blanket ( http://www.homedepot.com/p/Frost-King-Fiberglass-Water-Heater-Insulation-Blanket-SP57-11C/100139225#.UqcvM2RDuFc

) to prevent heat loss. Hot water piping should also be covered with split foam insulation. Both are inexpensive and easy to install.

See the light.

Open shades and blinds on any south-facing windows or glass doors when the sun is shining and close them when the sun goes down. You’ll achieve natural heating during the day and cut down drafts at night.

Turn it down.

Most of us can live with a degree or two less on the thermostat. Try it. For each degree above 68, energy consumption increases by about 6 to 8 percent — and studies show this is an optimal temperature to get the best night’s sleep. Bonus! One of the biggest misconceptions is that you save money by keeping the thermostat at the same temperature all the time. In fact, it’s much less expensive to heat the home back up than it is to maintain the same temperature all day long.

These are just the basics, folks. There are so many tricks and technologies available for reducing your energy consumption and utility bills. Check them out if you’re ambitious, but these six moves are easy and inexpensive. You can knock them out in a weekend or less. That leaves the rest of this long, cold winter for saving serious money and enjoying a warmer, more comfortable home.

Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little one, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens.

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