Smart home improvements for lowering heating costs

Amidst the doom and gloom of the economy, there comes, occasionally, a glimmer of hope in the way of a bargain about to happen. According to the latest info from the Department of Energy (DOE), that bargain will come in the cost of heating your home this winter.

In a report released this week, DOE's Energy Information Administration said heating oil prices are projected to average $2.75 per gallon, a reduction of about 17% from the 2007-2008 heating season. Propane prices are projected to average $2.22 this winter, a decrease of 10% from last winter. And natural gas prices are projected to average $13.02 per thousand cubic feet, a slight increase of 2% from last winter.

Bottom line, it's looking like heating your house this winter is going to be close to an all time bargain.With this part of the economy actually working in your benefit, there are a few home improvement projects you can to actually drive heating costs down even further, without spending a dime:
  • Do windows – Keep window shades open and curtains pulled back during the day to take advantage of the sun's energy. At night, keep shades tightly drawn to both insulate the glass and reduce drafts caused by convection, which occurs when warm heated air strikes the cold glass, chills and then falls on you as you are stretched out on the couch, causing an uncomfortable draft.
  • Set your thermostat – Yes, we know figuring out how to program your clock set-back thermostat sends you psychologically back to the days you spent staring at a blinking VCR. But do it! Programming your heat to go down when you are sleeping or not home, and back up only when you are active in the house can cut heating costs by a whopping 10%.
  • Laundry later – Running your dryer not only dries your clothes, it also sends lots of excess heat into the house. Time your dryer cycles to supply heat when you need it, like during the day when you first get home from work. Running the dryer when you go to bed is a waste since you are already tucked snugly beneath the covers.
  • Reverse spin: Ceiling fans' reversible motors can spin indoor air into comfortable savings year-round, pushing warm air down in the winter and pulling cold air up in the summer. Add even more savings by installing an Energy Star-qualified model, which is up to 50% more energy efficient than a conventional fan.
  • Put out the fire – Even though the thought of a roaring fire conjures up scenes from a Norman Rockwell print, you'll save some dough if you skip the fireplace as a source of home heating. Most fireplaces are a home heating vacuum cleaner that sucks expensive, heated air right up the chimney. Instead, use them selectively as you would any luxury expense – because that is exactly what they are to run.
  • Skip the budget plan – If your fuel supplier offers a so-called budget plan where the cost of heating is spread over a 12 month period of time, cancel and pay for only what you use. Unless your income is such that you can not take the least bit of fluctuation, it's never been a better time to just pay for what you need.

Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He delivers tips for lowering home heating costseach week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.

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