Damping Down High Heating Costs With Conservation

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Damping Down High Heating Costs With Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, October 7, 2008 (ENS) - Heating costs this winter are expected to go through the roof, according to the federal Energy Information Agency, but residents can keep more of the warmth inside by inspecting home heating equipment now and by following simple, effective energy conservation measures,

Average household expenditures for all space-heating fuels are projected to be $1,137 this winter - October 1 to March 31 - a 15-percent increase over the estimated $986 spent last winter, the federal energy agency announced today.

The largest increases will be in households using heating oil and natural gas, according to the EIA's Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook.

The projected increases reflect higher prices, although colder weather than last winter will also contribute to higher fuel use in many areas, the agency says.

Expensive fuel may be leaking away, creating health and safety dangers. Recent home energy audits conducted by the Philadelphia nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency found virtually every home with natural gas heat it inspected had leaks - some homes had as many as eight.

"A typical Pennsylvania family spends more than $3,400 a year on utility bills, and the U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts residential heating costs will rise more than 30 percent in 2009," said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary John Hanger.

"We can take easy steps to conserve energy and save money, he said. "This winter, many families will be facing difficult financial decisions due to high energy costs, but reducing their energy consumption can go a long way to provide a measure of relief."

Households heating primarily with natural gas are expected to spend an average of $155, or about 18 percent, more this winter, the EIA says. Nationwide, about 52 percent of all households depend on natural gas as their main heating fuel.

Households dependent on oil heat can expect to pay an average of $449, or 23 percent, more this winter. Only seven percent of U.S. households depend on heating oil for winter fuel.

In the Northeast, where 31 percent of households use heating oil as their primary space heating fuel, the average household is projected to pay 24 percent more than last winter as a result of an 18 percent increase in prices and a five percent increase in consumption, says the EIA.

Performing basic maintenance on heating and cooling systems and practicing energy conservation at home are some of the ways consumers can manage rising energy costs.

In homes heated with oil, a first step is to inspect indoor and outdoor heating oil tanks for potential defects before refilling.

"A quick, 10-minute visual inspection of the tank is important to identify potentially serious problems before they occur," said Hanger. "A leaking tank or line can lead to a dangerous situation for a homeowner."

Leaking heating oil could cause indoor air problems and potentially contaminate groundwater and private drinking water wells.

Hanger advises anyone who thinks an oil tank may have problems to immediately call an oil company for help. "Any maintenance or alterations to a heating oil tank system should be done by a professional," he said.

The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Efficiency Division suggests using "the whole-house approach."

By combining equipment maintenance and upgrades with insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings, people can cut energy use for heating and cooling, and reduce environmental emissions, from 20 to 50 percent, the agency says on its website.

A home energy audit can disclose where a home is losing heat and wasting energy. The audit report should prioritize work that needs to be done based on cost-effectiveness, the federal agency advises.

Common recommendations include sealing and insulating the house, usually starting with the attic; installing a programmable thermostat; and upgrading the heating system.

Old energy-hogging appliances can be replaced with high efficiency Energy Star equipment, and residents can switch to energy efficient lighting.

Warmth can be prevented from escaping through windows with storm windows and insulating curtains or shades. Residents can keep drapes and shades on south facing windows open during the day to let the sunlight in and closed at night to keep the cold out.

Tips on energy conservation and residential heating oil tanks inspections are available at www.depweb.state.pa.us by using the keywords Energy and Storage Tanks.

Information is also available at www.StayWarmPA.com, including conservation tips and resources for getting financial assistance with utility bills and home weatherization.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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