How to save energy when oil’s your only option

Posted Sept. 19, 2008, at 8:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

Let’s review the obvious. Since it is getting cooler way too soon at night, I thought I should talk about some ways to save money when heating with oil.

We have beaten to death the idea of using a wood or wood pellet stove as a heating alternative. Fuel from the state of Maine is valuable to our local economy. Wood-based fuels are also safe for the environment and, perhaps most important, will save you a lot of money. And if you can place the heating device in the room with you, you will save.

Stickwood is less than half the price of oil. If you are a little creative, you can still buy wood today and have it be fairly dry by the time you need it.

But what if you cannot use wood? There are still some immediate steps you can take to save energy. The first one is to use thermostat setback. Resetting the thermostat will save somewhere between 1 percent and 3 percent on your heating bill for each degree you set back from a room temperature of 68 degrees. That is a crude savings number and you would have to do it for 24 hours a day to get those savings, but it gives you a feel for what can be done.

So to summarize, the deeper the setback and the longer the setback is done, the more energy you can save. You do not need a special thermostat to accomplish this; you can do it manually when you leave for work and when you return home at night.

Once you have set back the central heating system to save money, you can keep the room you spend the most time in comfortable by using a small electric heater to bump up the room temperature to a civilized level. You do not have to freeze in the dark. A small electric heater can be used on a temporary basis to keep that room warm. You should not use a plug-in heater 24 hours a day. It is not usually designed for such use.

The cost of electricity and oil are getting very close and this advice would not have been appropriate a couple of years ago. Times change.

I view temperature setback as a Draconian measure, since I do not want to live in a cold house in Maine in the wintertime, but it does save energy if you are desperate.

The more prudent step is to insulate properly. Look around your house. If you have a traditional attic where the insulation is on the floor, there should be at least 14 inches of fiberglass or cellulose there. There should be no gaps in the insulation. The attic access must be well-sealed. A foam box with weatherstripping or caulking is necessary to seal an access opening.

This is a simple thing that you can do, or you can hire it out and it can still save you money. It is easy to do and it is probably the first place I would check, unless there is a big hole in the side of the building.

As it gets colder out, you should be checking around windows and doors for air leaks. Even though there is no big hole in the side of your house, the cracks that surround many doors and windows add up to a big hole. You do not need an energy auditor to locate these, just the hands that you were born with to feel for cool breezes on a windy autumn day.

Caulk is cheap. And it should be a regular routine to have a couple tubes of latex acrylic and silicone caulk around the house with a caulking gun so you can hit those holes when the spirit moves you — maybe after your next oil delivery.

An energy audit helps, but you can start with common sense and make a big dent in your heating bills, regardless of what fuel you use.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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