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Monday, November 3, 2008

Cut your heating bill, boost the value of your home

Combining no- and low-cost weatherizing tactics with government and utility incentives can help raise or at least maintain the value of your home and slash your energy bills. You'll also help protect the environment.

Several energy-saving projects can reduce your heating bills this winter, according to our calculations. For instance, insulating the attic or basement is typically inexpensive and easy to do yourself. Adding attic insulation can lower your heating costs from 5 to 30 percent, according to a U.S. Department of Energy study.

Another simple measure you can implement right now is to drop the temperature setting on your household thermostat(s). For every degree you lower the temperature, you can save about 3 percent on your heating costs. Also consider lowering the setting 5° to 10°F when no one is home and at night.

Weatherizing you home can save you up to 30 percent on heating. And tests performed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the DOE showed that an aggressive weatherization program at your house can provide a 33.5 percent decrease in natural-gas consumption for space heating.

What's more, every dollar you shave off your energy bills with such home improvements can add more than $20 to the resale value of your home, according to a study by the Appraisal Institute. And a recent study by Seattle-based GreenWorks Realty showed that energy-efficient homes spend 18 percent less time on the market and sell for up to 37 percent more per square foot than conventional homes. (Consumer Reports has been leading the way on home-energy savings for decades, as detailed in "How to Cut Your Fuel Bill," from our August 1941 issue. As you'll see in this free PDF download—How to cut your fuel bill 1941.pdf—what's old is new.)

"We call efficiency the 'first fuel' that a homeowner consumes," says Suzanne Watson, policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Once you get that flowing, it cuts down your use of expensive secondary fossil fuels."

Seal holes
Cracks and crevices at all levels of your home allow expensive heated air to escape from your home; in an older house, those nooks and crannies can be the equivalent of a 2-square-foot hole in the side of the house. (Picture that.) But, estimates the DOE, proper weatherization alone can cut energy bills by at least 30 percent. Some utility companies provide free energy audits to pinpoint problem areas at your home; you can also find certified professionals in your area through the Residential Energy Services Network.

If you want to do the work yourself, look for dirty insulation, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also install precut foam pads to insulate electrical outlets, an often-overlooked source of cold-air infiltration and make sure you insulate holes in floors where heating and water pipes emerge. If you have steam radiators, place foil-faced insulation behind them to reflect heat back into the room. If your doors and windows are structurally sound there is no need to replace them. But you should replace any worn weather-stripping around doors and windows to cut drafts, which can make you feel colder and cause you to raise your thermostat setting.

"Add Insulation to Lower Your Heating Bills" and "Stay Warm Without Getting Fleeced" offer additional DIY ways to seal gaps.

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