Easy, cheap ways to cut heating bills

October 12, 2012
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With fall officially here and cooler weather on the way, Boston Building Resources (BBR) is offering some tips on do-it-yourself improvements that will make your home more energy-efficient. BBR is a Mission Hill co-op at 100 Terrace St. that sells new and slightly used construction materials.

First, take steps to block drafts. That will go a long way to reducing heating bills as well as improving comfort. Doors and windows are major sources of drafts, but, fortunately, there are many low-cost measures you can take that don’t require advanced carpentry skills.

Drafts from doors can be eliminated by installing weather stripping on the top and sides and a door sweep on the bottom. Those items can be installed with a few nails or screws and basic tools. Any door between a heated space and an unheated space—including basements and attics—should be weather-stripped.

With windows, the first step is to make sure the window is closed all the way and locked, and that any existing storm window is installed correctly and closed tightly. Gaps around the sash (the movable part of the window) can be closed by using rope caulk. That is a removable, putty-like material that can be pressed into place and easily removed when the warm weather returns.

A low-cost interior storm window can also be added. That consists of a sheet of clear vinyl stretched over the window opening and held in place by interlocking plastic strips. A long-term solution is to install high-quality exterior storm windows. Many people choose to have a contractor do that, but many also learn to do it themselves.

Drafts can also enter in unexpected places, such as light switches and electrical outlets. On exterior walls, any hole that was made for the electrical wiring can also let in cold air. That problem can be solved with foam gaskets that cost just a few dollars and are easily installed behind the switch or outlet plate.

In addition to sealing up drafts, adding insulation to heating pipes and ducts will prevent heat from being lost between the furnace or boiler and your living space. If you have a warm basement, you know that much of the heat you’re paying for is not making it all the way up to the rooms where you really need it. Pipe insulation can be added to minimize heat lost in this way and to reduce energy bills. Hot water pipes can also be insulated.

A programmable thermostat is an excellent tool for reducing heating bills by automatically turning down the heat when you are asleep or away from home and turning it back up just before you wake up or return. If you already have a programmable thermostat, spend a few moments figuring out how to program it and make the adjustments needed to fit your schedule. Adding one can also be done with basic tools.

To learn more and gain hands-on experience with weatherization, you can join the “Weatherizing Your Home” workshop being offered by Boston Building Resources on Sat., Nov. 10. For details, call 617-442-2262 ext. 1 or visit bostonbuildingresources.com.

From press materials.