Higher Efficiengy, Higher Usage
With the appliances that heat homes becoming steadily more efficient—gas furnaces especially—you might assume the total energy used to heat homes is also dropping. Instead, the energy used for space heating is actually growing. That, in turn, has helped increase emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced when furnaces, space heaters, and power plants burn coal, oil, and natural gas.
The main culprit: Bigger homes. Relatively low energy costs, too, have reduced the financial incentive for choosing a more efficient furnace. Governments and utilities have also reduced or eliminated many of the rebates they once offered to homeowners who chose more-efficient heating systems. Fortunately, many of those agencies still provide information that educates consumers about steps to reduce energy use in their homes. One of the best sources is the Department of Energy (800 363-3732; www.doe.gov), whose Web site provides interactive worksheets and links to other online information.
Here are some steps that can help you make your home more energy-efficient:
- Turn down the temperature a little. Keeping your home two degrees cooler will reduce emissions by about 6 percent and save you money. You may not notice the difference, especially at night or when you're out of the house (a programmable thermostat can help).
- Draw the curtains at night. A heavy curtain can block the chill from a cold window, so you won't need to raise your thermostat to feel comfortable. You may even find that you can maintain your comfort at a lower thermostat setting, thereby saving even more energy.
- If you live in a cold climate, choose windows without low-e coatings and little solar shading for south- and west-facing exposures. Keep the windows covered on sunny days during the summer but uncover them on sunny days during the winter to benefit from some free solar heating.
- Reduce heat loss from ducts. The Department of Energy estimates that 20 percent to 40 percent of the heating energy that leaves the furnace of a typical heating system dissipates in its duct system. Limit those losses by sealing leaks and, where feasible, insulating ducts.