Weathering the High
Cost of Heating Your Home
Whether you heat your home with oil,
natural gas, or electricity, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has
some tips to help you save money and stay warm this winter.
- Conduct an energy
audit to help detect waste and gauge the efficiency of your current
heating system. Your utility company may offer free or low-cost
energy audits, or you can conduct your own. The U.S. Department of
Energy (DOE) offers instructions at
www.homeenergysaver.lbl.gov. The home "walk-through" may help
you spot needed maintenance or problems that, if fixed, could save
you money. For example:
- Check your
attic, attic stairway, attached garage walls and basement to make
sure your home is insulated to DOE-recommended levels for your
area. When inspecting and buying home insulation products, look
for the R-value. The higher the R-value, the greater the
- Wrap your hot
water heater in an insulating jacket.
- Schedule an
annual tune-up for your heat pump, furnace or boiler. Your utility
company may provide this service.
- Hire a
professional to seal and insulate leaky ducts, and to ensure that
the airflow distribution system serving your heating equipment is
operating at peak efficiency.
- Clean or
replace filters on forced-air furnaces, seal flues in fireplaces
you don't use, install drapes or some other covering on windows,
and seal holes around plumbing and heating pipes.
- Install a
programmable thermostat that will automatically lower nighttime
- Check caulking
and weatherstripping, and repair where necessary.
- Close your
foundation vents in the winter if there's a crawl space under your
- Close the doors
to rooms that you don't use.
- Prune shrubs
that may block airflow to your heat pump.
- Install ceiling
fans. The air circulation promotes heating efficiency in the
- When buying a new
furnace, boiler, heat pump, water heater, or other home appliance,
consider a high-efficiency model. Although some energy efficient
appliances may cost more to buy than other models, their lower
operating costs may save you money in the long run. Use the black
and yellow EnergyGuide labels to compare the energy use or
efficiency of models. You can find these FTC-required EnergyGuide
labels on most major appliances. The labels provide useful
information about products' energy use or efficiency and estimated
annual operating costs. In addition, the EnergyStar logo will help
you identify high-efficiency appliances.
- Shop around for
the best prices on oil - and gas, if you live in an area that lets
you choose your natural gas provider.
- Ask your utility
or oil company about a budget billing plan to protect against sudden
or unexpected price increases. Your provider takes the amount of
energy you use during one year and divides it into equal monthly
payments. At the end of the season, you pay any outstanding balance
or your provider credits any overpayment to your next monthly bill.
- If you're on a
fixed income and have trouble paying your utility bills, contact
your utility company. They, or your state or local government, may
have energy assistance plans to help you pay your heating bills.
Don't Get Burned
When energy prices rise, so does advertising for a host of
energy-saving products and services - including some that are just
plain bogus. The Commission recently settled charges against marketers
who claimed their "liquid siding" product had a significant R-value
and would yield dramatic reductions in consumers' utility costs.
Although good maintenance such as caulking and painting can reduce air
leaks in older homes, consumers should be wary of coating or paint
sellers that promise their product will perform like insulation or
will significantly reduce utility bills.
other devices, gadgets, and energy-saving products also promise
drastic reductions in home heating costs or extreme energy savings.
Read energy-saving claims carefully and, if possible, get independent
information about product performance. Avoid unsolicited door-to-door
sales calls and high pressure sales pitches from contractors offering
furnaces, windows, roofing, and other home improvement projects. To
make sure that a contractor is licensed and reputable: Ask friends and
neighbors for referrals; ask the contractor for customer references;
and check out potential contractors with the Better Business Bureau,
state and local consumer protection officials, and your state
licensing agency. The FTC's Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business
days to cancel a contract if you sign it in your home or at a location
other than the contractor's permanent place of business.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER