The arrival of snow in September had Central Oregonians thinking about cold winter and firing up the furnace. Even though there are a couple more months of fall, it's prime time to start getting homes ready for winter. There are projects for every budget; some best left to the pros, but most DIY-friendly—and they'll all help keep homes warmer and energy bills lower.
Heating/ Ventilation/ Air Conditioning (HVAC) system: Call in a professional for an inspection, evaluation and cleaning to ensure the systems are running efficiently. Even just changing the furnace filter is a simple DIY task that will help the system "breathe" properly with less effort, which equates to less energy needs to operate.
Thermostat: Programming the thermostat or installing a Smart Thermostat will save energy use by controlling temperatures that match people's daily schedule and needs. Instead of keeping a home at a constant temperature it's most efficient to keep the temperature lower when nobody is home or is sleeping and at a warmer temperature while awake at home. Smart thermostats learn a household's habits and actually self-program, while also allowing users to operate the system remotely and turn up the temps before everyone arrives home. Another easy tip is shut the doors to rooms not being used. That's zonal heating on a budget.
Sealing the home envelope: Sealing up drafts from doors, windows and other areas will help keep homes feeling warmer. Check for drafts by looking for cracks, gaps or openings, especially in the attic or basement and around doors and windows. Easy ways to seal up drafts include replacing worn weather stripping around doors and windows, installing a draft stop below leaky exterior doors and adding insulated gaskets at electrical receptacles and switch plates. If there's a fireplace in the home, close the damper. Leaving the damper open while the fireplace isn't in use is like leaving a window open, allowing warm air to escape through the chimney.
Ceiling fan: The switch on the ceiling fan does have a use: it reverses the blade direction. In the summer it's used to cool a room by pulling hot air upward. Reversing directions will force the warm air down and help to circulate the air, providing a more consistent temperature throughout the home.
Passive solar and window coverings: Opening window coverings on south-facing windows during the day helps promote passive solar heating. Using insulated window coverings helps keep the heat in and the cold out.
Mind tricks: Place an attractive throw blanket on furniture and colorful rugs on hard surfaces to create a more pleasant and cozy ambience, which will reduce the mental urge to crank up the furnace.
The Internet is a great resource for energy saving tips. Visit Energy Trust of Oregon's website, www.energytrust.org, for advice, info on rebates and incentives including a $50 coupon off a smart thermostat. Another excellent website is www.energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver, a consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home.