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Conserve energy to reduce costs
By Marcus Daniels
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- People cannot change the weather, but they can take conservation steps to save money before colder temperatures arrive.
Jimmy Bonner, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said regardless of how high or low the nation's fuel levels and heating costs are, taking conservation measures are always a good idea.
"Keeping a room 5 degrees cooler during the winter months can save money. For example, a thermostat lowered from 70 degrees to 65 degrees can save up to 21 percent on the heating bill," Bonner said. "It's better in a home to run the thermostat at a constant temperature. If you're cold, put on layers of clothing."
Air leaks around windows, doors and roofs are primary culprits of heat loss. Bonner said caulking and weatherstripping could reduce heat losses up to 37 percent in those areas.
Bonner also suggested using a smaller portion of the home in very cold weather, and heat only that area. Close off unused rooms unless there is the risk of pipes freezing. Shut off the air vents, close the doors and place a towel under the door to reduce drafts.
"Insulation is a low-cost technique to conserve energy," he said.
Increasing attic insulation reduces heat lost through the attic by up to 50 percent. Insulate water heaters. A water heater uses 12 percent to 15 percent of a typical home's energy.
Completely wrap electric water heaters with insulation, but wrap gas water heaters on the sides only. On gas heaters, make sure that the pilot light's access door is not covered or that air is not blocked from the burner. Fix leaks, especially hot water faucet leaks, which make water heaters operate unnecessarily.
When dealing with heat sources, safety is a major concern, according to Herb Willcutt, professor of agriculture and biological engineering at MSU. He described fireplaces as extremely dangerous and "notoriously inefficient" heat sources.
"They literally send energy dollars right up the chimney along with volumes of warm air," Willcutt said.
A roaring fire can send as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outside, which must be replaced by cold air coming into the house from the outside. Heating systems must warm up this air, which is then exhausted through the chimney.
"Some types of firewood cause coals to fly out from fireplaces, potentially igniting furniture or carpet," Willcutt said. "If you are going to use a fireplace for heating, get a good set of glass doors to encase the unit."
Willcutt said alternative heating sources like outdoor furnaces or corn-fed stoves are more effective.
"Make sure that heat sources are installed properly and operating accordingly with adequate maintenance and cleaning," he said.
When fuel costs are high, it is easy to overlook the value of maintenance. However, a problem in the heating system simply adds to these costs. Change the filter regularly and have the system serviced to make sure it is operating efficiently. Keep a record of services performed.
For safety as well as efficiency, make sure heating systems and structures are properly vented. A heating contractor can tell if venting is a problem.