Put high energy bills on ice

Even though winter is still a few weeks away, the first chilly signs are being felt. Here in upstate New York there are many exciting outdoor pursuits to enjoy. Skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, ice fishing and simply riding a sled in the backyard with the kids are just some of the activities on the horizon.

Unfortunately, the cold temperatures lead to an indoor activity none of us are too fond of - paying the heating and electric bills. When the days are shorter and the temperatures colder the home energy bills can sky rocket. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help keep your costs under control.

Some of the tips I am including in this column have been detailed in the past, many are common sense, while others are new. I am hopeful that by utilizing some or all of the tactics you will be able to better manage your energy use and keep winter bills in check.

One of the simplest cost saving measures is to lower the thermostat. For every one degree you set back your thermostat, you can save one to three percent on your annual heating bill. By installing a programmable thermostat you can adjust your homes temperature based on your family’s schedule. Dropping the temperature at night, during the day when you are at work and your children are at school, or any other time when you leave the house for more than two hours can provide real savings. It takes less energy to warm a cool house than to maintain a higher temperature all day and night.

It is also vital that you do everything you can to keep out the cold. A quick inspection of your home may reveal areas where heat, and in turn cash, is simply leaking out. Check for insulation in your attic, walls, ceilings and floors, and install more if needed. Inexpensive weather-stripping around doors and windows can also go a long way in blocking cold drafts. You should also replace any cracked windows and use easy to install storm window kits to keep out breezes. Finally, close your curtains at night to keep warm air inside.

Keeping your furnace or boiler in tip-top working order is also key. You should have your furnace checked and cleaned annually by your heating contractor. To keep it running efficiently, check your filters and replace them as needed and insulate ducts or pipes that run through unheated spaces. You can also maximize heat distribution by placing heat resistant reflectors between radiators and walls.

There are also a number of steps you can take to help conserve energy. When you are upgrading your appliances you should look for those that carry the ENERGY STAR label to assure you are purchasing the most energy efficient products on the market. If your furnace is over ten years old you may want to replace it with an ENERGY STAR approved unit to save up to thirty percent in energy costs.

Additional energy saving tips are available on-line at a special website created by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), www.getenergysmart.org. The site includes plenty of useful information on cutting your energy costs, community outreach programs, even a humorous new video series – “Irreconcilable Temperatures.” The New York State Public Service Commission website, www.askpsc.com, is another terrific resource.

Even after implementing the recommended energy conservation measures many New Yorkers still find themselves struggling to pay their heating bills. For some people, help is available. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is a federally funded program administered by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) that provides financial assistance to eligible households to help pay for their home heating costs.

To find out if you may be eligible for HEAP benefits, use the on-line pre-screening tool at www.mybenefits.ny.gov or contact your local social services office.

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