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Homeowners Feel Energy Price Jump
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- By now, consumers are used to high prices at the gas pump, but many are still recovering from the shock of their heating bills that arrived in January.
Natural gas prices have more than doubled in the past year, with much of that increase happening since November. The problem is nationwide and comes at a time when usage is up because of one of the coldest winters in recent history.
Frances Graham, Extension housing specialist at Mississippi State University, said three years of warmer winters slowed natural gas production. Demand over the past few months was high for this low supply, so prices rose.
With prices not expected to fall until supply catches up with demand in 18 months to three years, Graham had some advice to homeowners.
"Turn the thermostat down and put on more clothes," she said. "Heating and cooling account for 44 percent of the energy used in a home. Up to a point, there is a definite savings for every degree you turn down the thermostat."
Ideal home temperature during the winter is 68 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Another thermostat to check is the one on the water heater. Graham said manufacturers often preset these thermostats to 140 degrees, but 120 degrees is more efficient.
If the water heater thermostat doesn't show degrees, check the hot water temperature at the faucet with a thermometer. Electric water heaters usually have a top and bottom heater element with separate thermostats. Be sure to adjust both for highest efficiency.
A water faucet that drips one drop a second costs about $3 to $4 a month, so repair leaks. Take showers to save on hot water costs. A five-minute shower uses less than 10 gallons of water, but most baths require 15 to 25 gallons, Graham said.
And contrary to popular belief, burning a fireplace is not a good way to reduce the winter heating bill.
"A fireplace is the most inefficient heat source you can use," Graham said. "A roaring fire can send as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour up the chimney. This draws cold air in from outside to replace what is lost, and the air must be heated before it is drawn outside again."
Graham recommended those burning a fireplace keep the room closed off so warm air from other areas of the house is not allowed to escape up the chimney. Wood burning heaters are more efficient, but be sure to close the damper on each unit that is not being used.
"If you're not using a fireplace and you've left the damper open, it's like have a 48-inch wide window open during the winter," she said.
Other energy savings steps include caulking and weatherstripping windows, and insulating them by placing a tight- fitting sheet of plastic over them. Reducing air leaks in a home can save 10 percent or more on energy bills.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to insulate a home is to add attic insulation. Measure insulation thickness to find out if there is enough. Add more insulation if there is less than seven inches of fiberglass or rock wool or less than six inches of cellulose.
Graham said insulation can be added between floor joists of houses with conventional foundations if the crawlspace is completely dry.
"Check the house's ductwork for leaks or inadequate insulation. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces or cooled air into hot spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to energy bills," she said. "Look for obvious holes and joined sections that have separated. These allow conditioned air to escape and unconditioned air to be drawn into return ducts."
Change or clean air filters regularly on heating and cooling units, as accumulated lint and dust restrict air flow and increase operating costs.
More energy-related information is available from county Extension offices and at MSUcares.com.