Don't Fall For "Energy-Savings" Scams

You can cut your heating bill without investing a dime in equipment or materials.  Lots of companies are advertising expensive home improvements that they claim will save you huge sums on your electric bill.  But if you read the fine print, you'll often learn that one product on its own rarely has such power, and that most of them take years--even decades--to deliver the promised savings.

Save your money.  It doesn't have to cost you much-or anything-to stay toasty warm indoors this winter and shave a few bucks from your heating costs.  Five examples:

  • Change your air filter.  The filter's job is to collect dust, pet hair and other particles that live in your home's air so they can't get into your furnace and clog it up.  But if your filter is covered in particles, air can't get through either, and your furnace needs air to operate properly.  If it can't operate properly, it will run too often or too long and it might leave you feeling cold and tempted to crank up the thermometer.  So clean or replace your air filter every few months (more often if you live someplace with dusty or dirty outdoor air).  Do the same with your air conditioner's filter in the summer.
  • Turn on your ceiling fans-yes, in the winter!  Set it to the "winter" or "reverse" setting so the blades create a subtle updraft, which pushes the warm air that naturally rises to the ceiling back down into the room.  The fan doesn't actually warm up the room, but it makes the air feel warmer so you'll be more comfortable.  And that means you won't reach for the thermostat to crank it up.
  • Open the blinds.  If it's sunny outside, that natural warmth will radiate into the house through your windows, which means your heating system won't have to work so hard to keep the house comfortable.  Close them up when the sun does down to keep the cold out.
  • Get out your caulk gun.  A hole or a crack in a wall, window or door sends your cozy, conditioned air right outside-and invites cold outdoor air indoors.  Plug them with caulk or weather-stripping.  A tip:  Hold a lighted candle or stick of incense near a window or door and notice if it sways, if it does, you've got a draft that needs sealing.
  • Turn your thermostat down at bedtime,  If you set it back 10 degrees for eight hours at a time and do it every night (and reverse it in the summer), you can slash around 10 percent from your heating and cooling bills, the Department of Energy estimates.  A tip:  if you have a programmable thermostat, set it to do this consistently so you won't forget.