Ask Eco Ed: My heating bills are out of controI, is there anything I can do?

Dear Eco-Ed:

My heating bills are out of control, and my house is still not a comfortable temperature. Is there anything I can do?

– Broke in Glen Rock

Dear Broke:

Do not despair, as you are not alone.  As a matter of fact, local Environmental Commissions/Committees in both Glen Rock and Ridgewood have sponsored events to highlight rebates and incentives offered by the NJ Clean Energy Program to help homeowners reduce energy costs.

High energy bills are typically caused by one or more of the following:

Inefficient or older heating system.  What condition is your current equipment in?  Is it designed properly, or has it been altered by additions/renovations over the years?  Is it sized properly?  Properly maintained?   Installing and properly setting a programmable thermostat can also reduce energy wasted at times when no one is home, or while you are sleeping.

Eco Ed checking for proper insulation. Poor insulation leads to a drafty and energy inefficient house. Photo provided by Donna Gialanella.

Insulation levels.  Check your attic insulation.  Fiberglass does little to block air movement, and it is estimated that roughly 90% of homes in NJ are under-insulated by current Energy Star standards.  Typical insulation materials should be over 12” deep to help keep heat in and cold out.  Older homes may not even have insulation in the walls.  Keep in mind that no insulation is complete, without:

Proper air sealing.  Track down drafts in your home.  Some are easy to find, and simple low-tech solutions are often the best.  The fireplace damper is a common culprit.  Be sure to close the damper in your fireplace when not in use.  If the seal is not good, then a “Chimney Balloon” is an inexpensive way to block cold air movement: providing you with a home cooler.  A door cozy, or a door sweep are both handy little items that block the drafts that creep in underneath your doorways.  Caulk or weather-stripping around door and window frames are products that almost anyone can use to minimize drafts, A/C bills and increase your comfort. Are your windows double-paned, or have storm windows in place?

When addressing these issues, be sure to focus first on health and safety.  You do not want to tighten up your home, or add insulation if you have contaminants in the home that will now be sealed in more tightly.  The main contaminants that are most important to watch out for are:

Mold, or moisture sources that may become mold once air movement is reduced, carbon monoxide, improperly vented gas/oil appliances, asbestos, gas leaks (surprisingly common).

To properly analyze what specific issues you are facing, you may want to invest in a Home Energy Audit.  It is always a great place to start, to help you not only IDENTIFY areas to save energy, but also to help you PRIORITIZE the improvements that can be made, based upon comfort, health & safety, or cost savings.  It is also the first step in getting access to State incentives of up to $5,000 per household, along with $10,000 interest-free loans to qualified homeowners to offset the cost of energy efficient upgrades!  One caveat – be sure to choose the auditor carefully.  You want to find someone that is certified by the Building Performance Institute and participates in the Home Performance Program – a requirement for getting access to those incentives.  Also, look at the company’s track record and motivation.  See for a list of accredited companies.  Keep in mind that an insulation company may not provide you with an objective opinion, as they want to sell you their product.  The same goes for a window or a heating/cooling company, etc.  Also beware of a low-cost audit, as those companies may intentionally lower their cost, so they can get into your home and try to sell you something.  The few hundred dollar investment in an objective and thorough audit is almost always well worth it.

By identifying and addressing the problem, you can be warm, without costing you an arm and a leg!

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