Ways to be Fuel Smart: Get Comfy Room by Room

Home | Insulation | Conserving Energy

Heating | Books | Links

Some people think that energy conservation can be boiled down to this: “How miserable can you stand to be?” They’re afraid that saving energy will start with a plea to turn your thermostat down to 60°F and smile nobly as you shiver. Fortunately, conservation does not have to result in discomfort. With a little awareness and effort, you can trim your energy use with little sacrifice. That’s what this section is all about.



One of the easiest ways to save fuel is through attention to your thermostat setting. Your heating system and lifestyle will determine how much flexibility you have in setting your thermostat.

The Thermostat: Your Key to Savings

Thermostats, where they are located in your home, and how you set them can be the most important factor in determining the size of your fuel bill.

• When you’ll be out for an evening, turn down the thermo stats. If you’ll be away for a weekend or more, lower the thermostats to 55°F. You’ll save on heating without risking a freeze-up of your water pipes.

• Whenever you can lower your thermostat dramatically for a few days or more, you’ll save a little on the operation of the refrigerator and freezer, which won’t need to work so hard to maintain their cool.

How low can your thermostats be set? At our house, we’ve gotten accustomed to 68°F as a comfortable norm. Reduce the heat just one degree at a time and try it for a week. Each one-degree drop for an eight-hour period reduces your fuel bill 1 percent. Gradually, you might be able to go down three or even four degrees comfortably and save a chunk of money.

• Try turning down the thermostat five to ten degrees at night, and then turn it up again in the morning when the coffee is brewing. If you can get used to that, you’ll save 5 to 10 percent of your heating bill.

One common myth is that when you reduce the thermo stat for only a few hours it will take more heat to bring your home back up to the desired temperature. This is not so. You will save money and fuel because your heating system will not have to keep your home so warm. You will use less energy overall even when you warm up your house from a cooler temperature.

• For greater ease and comfort, install a programmable set back thermostat. They are available for most gas- and oil- fueled central heating systems. In this way, you can have the heat turned up before you get up in the morning and lowered just as you get into bed. You may not even notice that you are setting back your thermostat. Most of these thermostats come with two setbacks. Therefore, you can also set back the thermostat for the hours when people are in school or at work.

• Some setback thermostats have different setbacks for week ends. If you frequently forget to setback your thermostat, the programmable setback thermostats will be a great investment. Even if you are already pretty good at remembering, these devices can frequently enable you to set back the thermostat a few extra degrees, providing you with additional savings.

• If you heat with electricity, you can take advantage of the individual room thermostats that make it possible to shut off unused rooms and to have cool settings in some rooms and warmer settings in others. Using this feature of electric heat will definitely reduce your fuel bills. If you have a thermostat that controls a relatively large area, you should still consider a setback thermostat. You will need an electrician for this installation.

• Do you need to talk yourself into a lower thermostat set ting? Here’s an argument. Your plants are healthier in the cooler air. The health of your plants isn’t in the same league with your personal comfort? All right, you’ll be healthier in the cooler air. Your body will burn a few more calories keeping you warm, thereby helping you to lose weight and improve your general health. Besides, if you’ve already insulated and tightened your home, you will probably be just as comfortable at lower temperatures.

• When it’s time to open the windows for a little fresh air in the spring, remember to turn down the thermostats. Those cool breezes that feel so good will send your furnace on a fuel-burning rampage unless the thermostats are reset.

• Planning a party? Turn the thermostats down. Each guest is the equivalent of a 175-watt heater, and a large group will warm up the place without the furnace or the heating units in operation.

Curtains Help to Insulate

By closing curtains and shades at night, you can slice into your heating bill. Your draperies will be more effective in reducing heat loss if they are heavy or lined fabric.

Pull them back during the day, of course, for light and heat. In fact, it’s best to install your drapery rods over the wall past each end of the windows. That way you can pull the drapes all the way off the windows and receive the fullest benefits of light and heat during daylight hours, especially from south- facing windows.

If you need new draperies, consider buying insulating window shades; these are typically made of fabric with special insulating qualities. Another desirable feature is an edge seal to keep any drafts from coming through your windows.

Are you on a low budget? For an unusual decorative touch, hang old patchwork quilts as window draperies. They’ll be heavy enough to do a good job, are easy to hang, and will certainly be interesting. Check your local thrift shop.

How to Save Heat — and Money

A new door here, new carpeting there, and a change in habits for all members of the family. These things can add up to big savings of energy and money.

• Don’t leave the room without closing the closet door. There’s no need to spend hard-earned money heating storage spaces. Clothes you’re going to wear can be taken out the night before into the warmth of the room. Be your own valet and save money.

• Take those beautiful Oriental throw rugs off the floor and hang them on the walls where people can see and enjoy them, and where they will serve as additional insulation.

• Carpeting on floors, even in bathrooms and kitchens, is a heat-saver and comfort-maker. Durable carpeting is avail able that is quite practical for any location. In the bathroom, particularly, stepping out of the tub onto a cozy carpet is much nicer than bracing your toes for cold tiles. The practical advantage is that a bathroom thermostat can be set much lower without any discomfort.

• Is there a doorway between the first and second floors of your home, or on the way up into the attic? If not, it may make sense to put one in. Stairwells act like chimney flues, conducting heat to the top of the house where you may need it less. A door may be easy to install and will tend to keep the heat downstairs where you need it.

• Time for school? Make a habit of getting all the kids out the door at once each day, instead of opening and closing the door for each one.

• Think about using an outdoor doghouse. Remember, your pup’s ancestors lived outdoors for centuries, and he can adapt to being outdoors all year-round, unless he happens to be one of the few tropical breeds, like Chihuahuas. The wintertime advantage to you is no more opening and closing the door umpteen times a day to let him in and out — and no more heat lost with each opening. and with the dog outdoors, you may spend less time with the vacuum cleaner humming to pick up dog hairs.

• Make sure your thermostat is located on an interior wall, away from drafts. You don’t want your thermostat to call for heat every time the door opens!

• Two sets of doors at the principal entryway make a convenient foyer for putting on boots in winter and also cut heat loss as people go in and out.

• Do you have a game room with a Ping-Pong table? Close it off with a well-fitting door and let it be cooler than the rest of the house. The action of the game will work to keep the players warm.

• Planning a home workshop? Since the room will not be used regularly, keep it off the main heating system and let it be cool between uses. Warm it with a separate heater or a small woodstove.

• Having your garage attached to your house is convenient in many ways, but be sure to have a separate door for going in and out to the yard or driveway. Opening the big garage door is like taking off the side of your house, and it costs plenty in lost heat.

• A rug in the children’s play area gives more warmth for playing on the floor than wood or tile. Indoor-outdoor carpets made of synthetic yarns will take a lot of punishment and are quite stain-resistant.

• Go for soft, warm colors in the north rooms where direct sunlight is not available to cheer things up. You’ll be surprised at the effect color has on how comfortable you feel.

• Don’t forget to close those chimney dampers if you have a fireplace or stove not in use. An open chimney will send more heat from the house than an open window.

In Summer It’s the Heat and Humidity

There’s lots you can do to keep cool in the summer. You’ll be more comfortable and if you have an air conditioner, you’ll be saving energy as well.

Keep an eye out for extra lights burning, particularly incandescent bulbs. They furnish more heat than light and cause your air conditioner to work harder.

An air conditioner’s filter should be cleaned or replaced at least once a month. This reduces the load on the unit, thereby decreasing operating costs.

An air conditioner operates most efficiently when placed on the shady side of your house — generally the north side.

Set your air conditioner’s thermostat no lower than 78°F, and shut it off when there’s a breeze blowing that could cool things off through open windows.

Compare products before you buy an air conditioner. Look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) that you’ll find on most appliances today. The higher the number, the more cooling it will produce for a given amount of electricity. Check to see whether it has an Energy Star logo.

With an air-conditioning unit, bigger isn’t necessarily bet ter. A unit bigger than you need for the space to be cooled will make the air clammy and uncomfortable, while a unit too small will just work away burning kilowatt hours and still not cool you.

You’ll be more comfortable in summer if you can find ways to lower the humidity — just the opposite of winter, when you’re often trying to raise it. The kitchen and laundry areas are moisture-makers, so keep them closed off from the rest of the house as much as possible. Be sure to cover the pots on the stove when you’re cooking to save energy and minimize the steam escaping into the room. The covered pot, incidentally, is a good idea any time. It holds the heat in where it will do the cooking, rather than letting it escape into the room. A covered pot will come to a boil faster, saving fuel.

When you take a shower, in addition to turning on your fan, open the bathroom window to let the moisture out.

Since warm air rises, in the summer you’ll do well to open the upstairs and attic windows to let the heat escape. Then, in the cool of the evening, let the more temperate air into the house; close the windows first thing in the morning to keep that cool air inside.

Awnings can really be a help in the summer. Particularly on the south windows, awnings will keep the sun away while still letting some light and cooling breezes through. A heavy duck cloth or plastic panels, either in a light color or in white, will be most effective.

A large window fan costs considerably less than an air conditioner and uses a fraction of the power. Perhaps the most effective place to put a fan is in an attic window where it will push the hot air out of the house and draw the cooler air in through the downstairs windows.

For cooling breezes in the spring and fall, open windows from the top to exhaust excess heat without causing drafts that might trigger the thermostat.

You’ll be cooler in a minimum amount of loosely fitting clothing. Decorating with bright pastel colors and crisp, cheery plants indoors and out will also help to make your home feel cooler

Five Easy Ways to Cut Heating Costs

1. Many people can cut their home heating bills by 10 percent or more with one very simple move: Have the furnace cleaned and adjusted properly. If you have an oil burner, that means at least an annual inspection done by a qualified technician.

2. While your oil burner is under discussion, find out whether it is a “conventional” or a “retention head” burner. The latter is much more efficient. It uses smaller fuel nozzles and will save as much as 15 percent on your fuel bill.

3. Forced warm-air furnaces need to have their air filters cleaned or replaced at least twice each winter. A clogged filter chokes off the necessary breathing of the furnace and makes it work harder.

4. When you’re rearranging the furniture, make sure that radiators, warm-air registers, or heating units aren’t blocked and therefore functioning improperly. If there’s an arrangement you must have that blocks heat flow, try to let it wait until summer when it won’t affect heating efficiency.

5. A little extra humidity permits a lower thermostat setting without discomfort. Try a humidifier, or place pans of water on radiators or a woodstove to put a little moisture in the air.

Next: Your Energy-Efficient Kitchen

Prev: Insulate Now and Save

Top of page  All Related Articles     Products   Home