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Energy Smarts

With this winter's heating costs skyrocketing, many Americans are looking for ways to conserve our natural resources. Our tips and QUIZ offer great advice for trimming bills and fuel consumption.

An Overview

You've heard it on the news for months: fuel costs are rising. As a result, many Americans are experiencing inflated heating bills this winter.

Using the Northeast as an example, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that the average cost for a gallon of home heating oil last winter was $1.19. This rate translated into a winter heating bill of $765 for the typical family, according to Family Money magazine. This year, the EIA estimates that the average cost per gallon will be $1.32, with a total winter heating cost of $900 for an average family. And if it's a very cold winter, costs could be even higher.

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Take the Quiz

Before the temperature really plummets, take a moment to see if your home is ready for the big chill. First, take our quiz to test your energy-efficiency know-how. Then, use our tips for exterior and interior adjustments, which offer a quick way to batten the hatches.

Fuel Savings quiz

By sealing cracks, holes and drafts, you can make a world of difference in your heating bill. Consider these fixups:

  • See if exterior doors close tightly. Do they sag? Do they rub their door frames? Are latch plates or hinges loose? If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, spend some sweat equity to straighten the way your doors hang.
  • Replace worn-out weatherstripping. To see if it's time to replace, try this test: hold up a piece of tissue near any cracks. If the tissue blows around -- you have cracks that need sealing. Add weatherstripping around doors; foam sealant may do the trick for hard-to-reach cracks. If you can't find exact replacements, spring plastic strips, V-strips, or tubular gaskets make good alternatives. Also, check with your local utility companies; some will provide free weatherstripping to help tighten up your home.
  • Repair air leaks around windows. On a windy day, use a lighted candle to find air infiltration. Make sure storm windows are in place. Fix broken caulk around window exterior. On old leaky windows, consider using plastic sheet insulator kits.
  • Examine your foundation for signs of termites. A deteriorated foundation will probably have cracks, air leaks, and drafts. Add foam sealant to cracks.

In addition to tightening up your home's exterior, you can also make a difference in energy efficiency with a few interior adjustments:

  • Insulate water pipes in unheated areas to protect against freezing and to save energy. Insulation can be as basic, and as inexpensive, as newspaper bundled around the pipes and tied with string. But it's better to wrap pipes with insulation tape or to encase pipes with perforated plastic foam. While tape tends to be less expensive than plastic foam, it's more time consuming to apply. Two other options include standard blanket insulation wrapped with duct tape or an insulating liquid, which can be messy. If you're extremely concerned that a particular pipe will freeze, wrap it with an electric heat cable, which prevents freezing even with icy temperatures of 20 degrees or more below zero. This option uses a good deal of electricity and can be costly.
  • Clean up your fireplace and chimney. Before winter has you reaching for some seasoned logs, hire a chimney sweep to inspect your chimney flue and clean it if necessary. Make sure the flue's seal is good -- a drafty chimney is a wintertime no-no.
  • Have your furnace checked. Don't let temperatures plunge before a professional heating contractor inspects your oil-burning unit, heat pump, or radiator (annually) or your gas-fired or electric furnace (every two to three years). In addition, ask the inspector how you can best maintain your system year-round.
  • Have your water heater's tank pressure and temperature relief valve inspected. You should also drain off water through the valve at the bottom of the tank until no sediment shows. Be sure to lower the temperature of the thermostat several hours before doing this to avoid scalds.

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