EDITORIALS

Make your heating fuel stretch, drop by drop

Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 11:18 a.m.
This diagram illustrates the most common air leakage spots in homes.
Department of Energy
This diagram illustrates the most common air leakage spots in homes.

For Maine residents, especially those with low incomes, the odds are high they’ll be cold this winter. Most homes heat with expensive oil, the state’s old housing stock is often drafty and heating assistance programs will run lower on funding as the winter rolls on. It’s a good time to check on neighbors. And it’s always a good time to take advantage of options that will make heating sources stretch.

Efficiency Maine, a quasi-state agency that manages energy-saving programs, is one place to start looking for help if people want to find an energy adviser, get rebates for installing better insulation in their home or find a loan or rebate to switch to a more efficient heating system. Its website is also a good resource if people want to just explore their options or find a contractor or renewable energy installer nearby.

Homeowners may often feel removed from the larger energy picture. How can one household, for example, influence the price of electricity or fuel, or get natural gas lines installed in a remote area? Often in Maine, residents turn to wood heat, which can be labor intensive, or turn down the thermostat. There are also steps they can take to either switch their heating system entirely or get better value out of the one they have.

Determine energy baseline

First, it’s helpful to determine your home’s energy efficiency. This calculator, which considers the square footage of your home and the type and amount of fuel you use each year, can help: http://bit.ly/1hFeRY5. Once you know the efficiency level, you have a baseline from which to improve.

Evaluate heating options

If you want to know if you could heat your home for less money, using a different heating system or fuel, visit http://bit.ly/MlQpBo. This site allows you to compare your current energy usage and system with other available options. For instance, if you’re paying $3,709 per year for an oil boiler to heat your home, it’s possible to heat the same space with a geothermal heat pump for $1,361 per year. (Efficiency Maine has seen an increase in heat pump use, having helped with the cost of 1,000 units in the last four months.)

Find incentives

When deciding whether to switch your heating system, look into the incentives offered through Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program, which launched in September, at http://bit.ly/1ebs6QF or call 1-866-376-2463. Rebates are not based on income but on the type of project you’re pursuing and how much energy you’re likely to save. They are possible because of a bill passed by the Maine Legislature last year that directed funds from the sale of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon credits to the program.

Weatherize

If you’re not looking to change your heating system, weatherization will cut down on air “leakiness” in your home. These leaks can come from your heating or cooling system ducts, attics, basements, around chimneys, windows, doors, pipes, porch roofs and lots of other places.

Finding and sealing them — while accounting for proper ventilation — can save money in the long-term. The average air sealing project costs $850. With a $400 incentive, the net installation cost of $450 could be recouped in 1.3 years with the reduced demand for heat — and extended savings thereafter. Many customers do not pay $850, however; you just have to spend $200 to qualify for the incentive. Low-interest loans are available to help spread out the cost if necessary; underwriters typically respond to customers on the same or following business day.

Stick to the basics

Even if you don’t pursue weatherization or a heating system change, consider some low-cost basics. Turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees when you’re not home, and keep it at 60 degrees when you’re asleep. When it’s sunny, keep the curtains open to help heat your home, and close them when it gets dark. Consider installing clear plastic window films to keep out drafts. Make sure your boiler is cleaned, and insulate water pipes that provide heat to rooms in your home. Often small changes can make a big difference over time.

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