Winters in Ohio tend to be short, but bitterly cold and windy. When the temperatures have plummeted outside, you rely on your furnace, heat pump, or boiler to keep your home comfortable. While a functional furnace can keep your space cozy, your heating cost per month may also cramp your budget.
The average heating bill accounts for as much as 40% of a household’s annual energy expenditure, and as rates rise, it becomes harder and harder for homeowners to accommodate the expense. While many homeowners want to invest in a new, high-efficiency furnace or switch over to a less expensive heating fuel, many families don’t have the money on hand to make such a drastic change.
Fortunately, changing a few simple things around your household can make your Cincinnati, Ohio winter much less pricey. You may be able to lower your average heating bill all season long, without compromising your comfort. Here at Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we want to help homeowners conserve energy, without interfering with their budgets.
Understanding the Average Cost of Heating Bills
Heating costs can vary significantly depending on the type of furnace and fuel source used in your home. In the United States, roughly half of homeowners rely on natural gas heating, while 24% use electric heat, 6% use heating oil, and 5% use liquid propane. Only 3% of Americans don’t have or use furnaces, so heating is an expense many homeowners face every month.
Home heating costs can also vary depending on the square footage, insulation levels, and layout of your home. Factors as simple as the number of windows you have in your home or how often you use kitchen equipment can also play into what you pay every month. Ohio has the 26th highest utility costs in the country, with Hawaii having the most expensive utilities and New Mexico being the least expensive.
- The average monthly electric bill for an Ohio home is $106.13.
- The average monthly natural gas bill for an Ohio home is $76.11.
Different types of heating are more efficient than others, and cost less for homeowners to run. Here is an example of what annual heating costs could be between different natural gas, electric, oil, and propane systems:
- 97% AFUE Gas Furnace: $453
- 80% AFUE Gas Furnace: $601
- 97% AFUE Propane Furnace: $737
- 87% AFUE Oil Furnace: $826
- 80% AFUE Oil Furnace: $896
- 80% AFUE Propane Furnace: $956
- 7 HSPF Electric Heat Pump: $1,046
- Electrical Resistance Heating: $1,818
Saving Money on Home Heating
Save money on home heating by making your house more energy efficient. By adding a few things to your home maintenance routine and encouraging family members to change their habits, you can lower your energy consumption and reduce the price of your monthly utility bill.
Simple Ways to Save on HVAC
- Check your vent status. Your furnace may heat your home air, but your ductwork and air vents are the delivery system. If your vents are closed or your air returns are blocked your furnace will have to work harder to push air to rooms in your home, which can drive up energy use and overall utility cost. Check all of the vents in your home to make sure louvers are open and unobstructed. Keep furniture, carpet, rugs, and other items away from air returns.
- Adjust thermostats carefully. Thermostat settings should be checked whenever the seasons change. Check the thermostat scheduling to see if the system is set to run when you are home and turn down when you are away. Try to select energy-efficient temperature setpoints. For instance, if you are home, setting your thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit is most efficient, and when you are away, setting the temperature back 58 to 53 degrees is reasonable, and can save you money.
- Switch out your thermostat. Manual thermostats are helpful for quickly changing the temperature, but if you have an old, outdated unit, you could be missing out on energy savings. Modern smart thermostats are designed to reduce energy consumption by offering much more customized scheduling, zoned temperature sensors, and even motion detection to heat your home only when people are around. Some smart thermostats even eliminate the need for careful scheduling by automatically adjusting temperatures based on your daily habits.
- Replace HVAC filters. HVAC filters trap fine particulates as air is pushed through your home. However, when filters become clogged with dust and debris, they can increase energy expenditures considerably. Check HVAC filters every month and replace as soon as they become dirty. During the winter, you may need a new filter as often as every month. When you place the new filter, make sure the airflow arrows on the frame line up with the direction air travels through the system.
- Invest in a humidifier. When moisture is present in the air, it can change the way the temperature feels. Relative humidity levels between 30 and 50% indoors are ideal and can make you feel warmer without relying as much on your furnace. To lower your energy consumption, use a whole-home humidifier. These systems are affordable and easy to use, and as an added bonus, they help you to enjoy less static and softer skin all winter long.
- Check and seal ductwork. Ductwork can develop leaks or gaps, which allows carefully heated air to leak out into spaces like wall voids, attics, or basements. In fact, duct leaks are such a problem that they are thought to account for as much as 20 to 30% of heating and cooling loss inside the average American home. Holes in ductwork can also pull unheated air into your system, making the air that is delivered throughout your home cooler and less comfortable. If you have access to ductwork, look over the lines carefully to inspect the condition. Look for anything that might allow air to escape, including holes, gaps, disconnections, and torn tape. Patch any gaps with aluminum HVAC tape or mastic. If you can tell that the ductwork damage is severe, refer to an HVAC contractor for professional duct sealing services. In some cases, ductwork may need to be replaced.
- Insulate ductwork. When ductwork runs through areas like basements, attics, and crawlspaces, the heat from the air inside be lost as it contacts the duct’s cold metal walls. This heat loss can lower efficiency and make it more difficult to keep your home warm and comfortable. Remedy the problem by insulating ductwork you have access to. If ducts are within walls, consider investing in injection spray foam services to bolster insulation without removing drywall.
- Don’t use exhaust fans unless you need to. Exhaust fans help homeowners to expel humid, smelly air from kitchens and bathrooms. However, if you use fans too often, you could also be sending heated air right up the pipe along with those cooking fumes. Use exhaust fans and vented kitchen range hood fans as little as possible to preserve energy. Try not to run the exhaust fans for more than 20 minutes at a time. If you are concerned about humidity when you shower, try cracking the door to your bathroom to allow the moisture to spread evenly into the rest of your home. The relative humidity boost may even make your home feel warmer.
- Clean baseboard heaters and radiators. Radiant heating elements, such as baseboard heaters and radiators, can develop accumulations of dust and dirt, which can hamper efficiency. Clean radiant heating elements routinely to ensure even heating.
- Clean your outdoor heat pump unit. Outdoor air source heat pumps use refrigerant to collect heat from outside and bring it indoors. However, if the outdoor unit is dirty or strangled by weeds, outdoor patio furniture, or other plants, it could make your heat pump less efficient. Clean off your outdoor heat pump, and make sure there aren’t any items being stored in the area. If it snows, make sure drifts are cleared away from the unit. There should be at least two feet of clearance on all sides of the pump.
- Maintain eating equipment. Furnaces, heat pumps, and boilers should be professionally maintained to run their best. Furnaces should receive a professional tune-up at the start of the heating season, while heat pumps should be maintained in the fall and spring since they also air condition your home. During tune-ups, HVAC professionals clean your system and check and replace worn components, which helps your system to use less energy.
Home Improvement Projects That Save Energy
- Check fireplace dampers. Fireplace chimney dampers are the flaps inside of your fireplace flue that either let air out or block air from coming in. Dampers should fit snugly within the chimney to prevent heat loss when the fireplace isn’t being used. Check your dampers during the day to see if you can spot sunlight around the sides of the damper. If there are gaps around the dampers, they may need to be repaired. If you don’t use your fireplace, plug and seal your chimney to prevent heat loss.
- Add windbreaks outside. Keep wind from robbing your home of heat by creating windbreaks around your home with smart landscaping. Dense trees and shrubs, such as evergreens, can shelter your house to reduce drafts and reduce heating needs.
- Seal air drafts. Gaps around door frames and windows can allow air drafts, which means your furnace will have to work harder to maintain indoor temperatures. Check your home carefully for air drafts, and pay special attention to exterior pipes, doors, windows, wire penetrations, corners, attic accesses, and knee walls. If you spot a gap that could be causing a draft, seal it with spray foam insulation or caulk. Building pressurization tests can help homeowners to detect a leaky system and to make the appropriate repairs.
- Insulate wall outlets. When electricians install wall outlets, they have to create a hole in the drywall, which also opens the area up to a small air leak. Insulation should be added around outlets and within uninsulated wall cavities. Small foam gaskets can be installed behind an outlet, and caulk can be used around the outlet plate to prevent any added heat loss.
- Boost home insulation. Insulation is critical to preventing heat loss, and many homes don’t have enough to warm their homes efficiently. In most parts of Ohio, the Department of Energy recommends having R48 to R60 insulation in new attics, and R38 to R49 in attics that already have 3-4 inches worth of insulation. Increasing insulation within attics, floors, crawlspaces, walls, and basements can make it easier to control home heating costs.
- Seal windows. If you have windows that tend to leak and replacing them isn’t in your current budget, seal them with plastic to prevent heat loss. Sealing windows with plastic or even bubble wrap prevents drafts and reduces condensation. You can pick up window sealing kits at your local home improvement store.
Winter Changes That Help Save Money on Heating Bills
- Use window coverings wisely. During the day, you can enjoy free passive heating by taking advantage of heat-generating UV light. When it’s bright outside, open up curtains and blinds to let light in, which can naturally warm your space. When the sun goes down, close blinds and curtains tightly to trap heat inside. Make sure curtains are closed carefully, without gaps on the side, and consider using adhesive Velcro to attach curtains to the walls to eliminate even more heat loss. Using curtains at night and during cold weather can reduce heat loss by as much as 10%.
- Spot heating. If you have rooms in your home that tend to be chilly, avoid turning up the thermostat. Instead, supplement heat by using space heaters. These supplemental appliances are available in a variety of configurations and styles, including ceramic, infrared, radiator, and convection models. Only use space heaters with a UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) label, and practice space heater safety to prevent fires.
- Cover up indoors. Head to your closet instead of your thermostat if you feel chilly. Add another pair of socks, a sweatshirt, or even a layer of thermal underwear if you feel cold at home. Using a blanket or wrapping up in a robe can also help. At night, double up on your comforter to lower your energy use without feeling uncomfortable.
- Close fireplace dampers after use. While fireplace dampers absolutely need to be open when wood is burning or coals are glowing, leaving the damper open long after your fire has gone out can be a big heat loss waster. Close flues carefully after all of the embers have extinguished, so that your flue doesn’t draw heat up and out of your home. If you have a gas fireplace with a standing pilot light, turn it off during seasons like spring and summer to save fuel.
- Lower water heater temperature. To save energy, water heaters should be set at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Although you may be tempted to turn up the temperature to enjoy piping hot showers, too high of a temperature setting wastes energy, since your water heater will constantly heat to keep stored water at that setting. Additionally, high water heater settings can increase your risks of scalding burns.
- Use draft stoppers. If you have noticed drafts around your home, buy or make draft stoppers. These long, slender, fabric or foam devices are set in front of windows or along the bottom edge of doors to stop heat loss. Commonly filled with rice or beans, draft stoppers should be placed firmly along the drafty edge, especially overnight or on cold days.
- Adjust ceiling fan direction. Ceiling fans can make your home comfortable all year long. Put your ceiling fan into “winter mode” by flipping the switch on the body to rotate clockwise. During winter, this setting draws up the air to force stagnant, heated air that has risen downwards, where you can enjoy the heat. Like any electronic device, only use ceiling fans when you are present in the room to avoid wasting energy.
Lower Heating Costs with Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing
Here at Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing we are completely committed to helping homeowners throughout the greater Fairfield, Ohio area to enjoy a more comfortable environment all year long, without facing steep energy bills. Let us know what your HVAC or plumbing concerns are, and we will help you to find a remedy that fits your schedule and budget. Our experienced, NATE-certified team is ready to answer your questions and get your home on the road to improved efficiency.