Experts offer tips on lowering heat bills

COVINGTON -- The calendar doesn't quite say winter yet, but the thermostat is heading in that direction. Now is the time to prepare for cold weather, and it is possible to stay warm while saving money.

"Lowering your thermostat just 4 degrees, say from 72 degrees to 68 degrees, can provide savings of over a hundred dollars each heating season," said Yolanda Santiago White, senior communications coordinator for the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia. "And you can manage your home's heating costs further by installing a programmable thermostat that allows you to reduce the temperature of your home a few degrees while your family is away at work or school, then having the temperature return to a comfortable 68 degrees in time for everyone's return home. Most home improvement or hardware stores carry them and they are inexpensive and easy to install."

Natural gas prices have been low and stable thanks to abundant domestic supplies, making it a more affordable energy source for consumers, White added.

"If consumers have aging equipment they might want to consider replacing it with newer high efficiency natural gas appliances," she said.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia offer the following tips for winter weatherization:

Take advantage of heat from the sun by opening curtains on south-facing windows during the day. Close curtains at night to reduce the chill.

Cover drafty windows using a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or taping clear plastic film to the inside of window frames. Make sure plastic is sealed tightly.

Seal air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around chimneys, recessed lights in insulated ceilings and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulk or weatherstripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.

Schedule service for your heating system. Replace your furnace filter once a month or as needed. Clean the flue vent regularly and clean the inside of the appliance with a wire brush periodically to ensure your home is heated efficiently.

Keep the fireplace damper closed unless a fire is going. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open; it allows warm air to go up the chimney.

When using the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox or open the nearest window about 1 inch and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50 and 55 degrees. Check the seal on the fireplace flue damper and make it as snug as possible. Purchase gates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.

If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.

Water heating can account for 14 to 25 percent of energy consumed in the home. Turn down the temperature of the water heater to the warm setting, 120 degrees. Insulate your water heater tank. Buy a newer, more efficient unit.

Eighty to 85 percent of energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water. Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible. Wash and dry full loads. Dry towels and heavier cottons separate from lighter-weight clothes.

Don't over dry your clothes. Clean the lint trap after every load.

Use the cool down cycle if your dryer has one.

The city of Covington offers rebates to customers who purchase a new natural gas water heater or convert from propane to natural gas for appliances such as water heaters, ranges and furnaces. For more information, contact Stacy Walden at the City of Covington at 770-385-2027.