The Midwest is known to serve up some harsh winters. When it’s subzero outside, our homes reflect that chill. Still, it can feel like a task to keep our common areas cozy without having to spend a small fortune on a heating bill. We’re here to tell you that you don’t have to choose one over the other.
It’s possible to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature without having to take out a second mortgage for your heating bill. That said, we’ve gathered some frequently asked questions about heating your home on a budget and we address them below:
Q: How can a dirty furnace filter affect HVAC performance?
A: A dirty air filter is one of the most common reasons for HVAC system failure. A dirty filter restricts the airflow into your HVAC system’s air handler. This situation places additional strain on the air handler fan motor and could ultimately burn out the motor and cause your system to overheat and fail. Bottom line: Regular filter replacement is a small price to pay to extend the life of such an important fixture of your home.
Q: I have a lot of windows and natural light in my home. How can I make the most of these resources?
A: We advise making the most of the sun when you can. Open drapes and curtains during the day and then close the curtains just before sunset. Also, consider insulating curtains (around $100 per window) to further help in this regard. Not only can a set that meets your needs reduce heat loss by up to 25%, but you can find colors or patterns that look great and complement your home decor.
Q: My family members like to take longer showers in the winter. How can I curb these costs?
A: We tend to use more hot water in winter and that might be hard to adjust. However, one simple tweak might help you in the savings department. Lower the water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees.
Also, be sure your family members are taking showers, not baths. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average bath consumes up to 25 gallons of hot water, while a five-minute shower uses up much less — only around 10 gallons. Another tip: Equipping your showers with low-flow showerheads also dramatically reduces the consumption of water, both hot and cold.
Q: I’m concerned my windows are leaking air. What can I do, short of replacing them?
A: You can keep warm inside by installing clear plastic film across the inside of your windows. Available in kits that contain plastic film and double-sided tape, the plastic becomes nearly invisible when you heat it with a blow-dryer. If you find it unsightly, place the film on windows and patio doors selectively or only in unused rooms.
One word of caution: Measure your windows before buying; kits vary in size, and they work only with wood, aluminum and vinyl-clad molding. Return on investment is fast with this technique because heat lost through windows accounts for 10 to 25 percent of your overall heating bill.
Q: Is there a way I can maximize the placement of my furniture and other decorative pieces for optimal airflow?
A: We see it more than you might think — many times a couch, chair, or bed is blocking a vent. This wastes money and leads to cold rooms. With a forced-air system, blocking a supply or return vent can cause a house-wide pressure imbalance that impairs the heat flow in the whole system.
Similarly, be mindful of vents. Although it may seem like an easy way to manage expenses, closing vents in lesser- used rooms can ultimately leave your home feeling colder. That’s because your system is designed to heat all areas of your home. So, your HVAC system will continue to push out heated air, even when those vents are closed. This makes your system work harder while reducing its efficacy. Plus, that pressure pushing up against closed vents can lead to damage and costly air leaks.
Rugs can pack form and function in the heating department. Not only will they help keep your feet warm, they can also better insulate your home, as well as potentially reduce any drafts between floorboards. Plus, with so many styles on the market to suit any taste, they’re a nice decorative element.
Q. I’ve heard insulation can help in terms of efficiency. Can you explain?
A: A surprising amount of heat can be lost through your attic if it’s not properly insulated. In the worse cases, we see ice dams, leaks, and other damage. However, even if you don’t want to finish your attic completely, simply adding some insulation batting or having blown-in insulation sprayed into your attic’s existing framing can curb heat loss.
Also, try adding extra insulation to your garage door. You might notice a major difference from this
Q: It’s been a while since I’ve had my furnace looked at and that might be the reason for my home not feeling as warm. How often do you recommend an inspection and/maintenance?
A: It can be hard to tell if your HVAC system is working at full capacity, especially if it’s been slowly losing power over the years. If you want to keep your house toasty this winter, it’s best to hire a professional annually to test your system’s component parts to ensure they’re in tip-top shape. This way you can get in front of a potential issue before it causes a full-on breakdown.
Q: What other structural issues should be on my radar as a homeowner?
A: If left unattended, cracks in your exterior brickwork can affect your home’s interior temperature by allowing cold air to seep in. It’s in your best interest to spray the brick-and-mortar joints with a product like Thompson’s water seal.
But don’t stop here. The areas where cold air enters your home aren’t always as obvious as exterior cracks. If you really want to keep out the cold, you might consider adding caulk or weather-stripping around your outlets, your plumbing fixtures, and HVAC registers and vents.
Do you have a heating-related question or concern? We’re happy to help you sort it out. Trust the opinions of hundreds of area homeowners who have hired us for HVAC work. Give us a call at (800) 621-6679 to learn more.