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Fight High Heating Costs

Look for ways to reduce heating costs.

This winter’s frigid temperatures and high heating costs are putting a big dent in North Dakotans’ budgets.

For example, the cost of filling a 500-gallon propane tank jumped from about $750 to $2,250.

“Families struggling to pay for heating bills and keep up with other expenses shouldn’t panic, but they should take steps to manage the hit their family budget is taking this winter,” says Lori Scharmer, North Dakota State University Extension Service family economics specialist.

Scharmer recommends sitting down with a calculator to get a real picture of your finances: what money is coming in, what money is going out and where you can cut your spending.

“Heat is a necessity of life in North Dakota, so look for ways to reduce heating costs and for things in the budget that are nonessential or purchases that could be delayed until later,” she says. “This may be a time when the whole family needs to sacrifice a bit and tighten up spending.”

She also advises families not to stop making payments on their bills. Instead, families should call their creditors and explain that they are struggling to pay bills on time, then try to develop a payment plan that will work for them and their creditors.

An NDSU Extension publication, “When Prices Rise: Living on Your Income,” can help families track their expenditures and reduce their spending. It’s online at http://tinyurl.com/whenpricesrise or available from your local NDSU Extension office.

“Family Money Manager” is another Extension publication that can be helpful when adjusting the family budget. It’s available at http://tinyurl.com/fam-manager or from Extension offices.

Rising heating costs also are encouraging homeowners to look for ways to make their homes more efficient to heat. Even taking small steps can make a difference this year, according to Ken Hellevang, NDSU Extension agricultural engineer.

One way to cut costs is to practice zone heating, he says. Zone heating is keeping some areas of the home warmer and others cooler. That can reduce heating costs because heat loss is related to the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. Keeping the house temperature at 60 F rather than 70 F when the outside temperature is 0 F will reduce heat loss by 14 percent.

Reduce the house thermostat setting and use space heating in portions of the house. In homes with a central heating system, close heat vents or dampers and doors to reduce the amount of heat supplied to a room or area.

A 1,500-watt electric space heater produces 5,100 British thermal units per hour. The amount of heat produced is the same whether it is from an electric-resistance element or infrared bulb.

“Beware of some of the claims made for space heaters,” Hellevang cautions.

The cost to operate the heater is the electric cost per kilowatt-hour (kwh) multiplied by the kilowatts (kW) of the heater. For example, the cost to operate a 1,500-watt (1.5 kW) heater with an electric rate of 10 cents per kwh is 15 cents per hour. Most electric heaters that plug into a common house electrical outlet are 1,500 watts or smaller. A 1,500-watt heater will draw 12.5 amps on the electrical circuit, which is nearly the maximum for most house electrical circuits.

Do not use unvented combustion heaters in a home because they produce numerous pollutants, including carbon monoxide and water vapor. Select only vented combustion heaters and follow manufacturers’ guidelines for venting combustion gasses outdoors, Hellevang advises.

Comparing fuel costs and heating efficiency can help you chose the most economical heater. For example, electric resistance heat at 10 cents per kwh is equivalent to propane at $2.48 per gallon in a high-efficiency (92 percent) furnace and $2.02 in a 75 percent efficient propane furnace.

An NDSU Extension publication, “Fuel Cost Comparison Chart,” can help you make comparisons easily. It is online at http://tinyurl.com/fuelchart. A smartphone app is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/energy.

Air leakage causes a home’s largest heat loss. A well-sealed house will have an air leakage rate of about 0.5 air changes per hour (ACH), while a poorly sealed house may have an air leakage rate that exceeds 1 ACH. The difference between a well and poorly sealed home - an air leakage of 0.5 ACH - will increase fuel use by about 500 gallons of propane for one heating season.

Hellevang suggests sealing openings in the walls and ceiling to reduce air leakage. Places to check in walls include between the sill plate and foundation, and around windows, pipe penetrations and electrical outlets. Look for openings, feel for a draft or use a lighted stick of incense to check spots for a draft. Use weather stripping or caulking to seal openings.

Windows with sliding parts typically have higher air leakage than windows that seal by compressing the weather striping. Install plastic over the window to reduce air leakage. Reduce air leakage through doors by installing weather stripping and using a storm door.

Recessed lighting is the most common location for air leakage through the ceiling. Use approved enclosures or seals for recessed lights.

NDSU Extension has a series of publications to help homeowners make their homes more energy efficient. Check out the online resources at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/energy or contact your local NDSU Extension office for the following publications:

  • “Top Ten Home Energy Checklist”
  • “No-cost, Low-cost Home Energy Saving Tips”
  • “Insulating to Reduce Heating Costs”
  • “Tips for Saving Energy and Money for Renters”

Also consider that you feel colder in a room with cold wall surfaces, even though the air temperature isn’t lower, because of radiation heat loss from your body. Hellevang suggests closing draperies to create warmer inside surfaces, which increases the feeling of warmth.

Do not vent a clothes dryer into the home to save energy because this puts excessive amounts of moisture into the air, which normally will cause condensation and other moisture problems.


NDSU Agriculture Communication - Feb. 6, 2014

Source:Lori Scharmer, (701) 857-6450, lori.scharmer@ndsu.edu
Source:Ken Hellevang, (701) 231-7243, kenneth.hellevang@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawfors@ndsu.edu
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