Save some bucks on natural gas |

Save some bucks on natural gas

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunPeter Millar of Building Energy Solutions evaluates total energy use through heating in a house. Simple solutions involve making sure your home doesn't leak warm air to the basement, attic or directly outside.

With home heating rates certain to rise this winter, energy experts are saying there’s a lot you can do to keep your home warm without paying sky high bills.

Simple solutions involve making sure your home doesn’t leak warm air to the basement, attic or directly outside.

You can also lower bills by replacing lights with more efficient fluorescent bulbs and lowering the temperature on your water heater.

New bulbs are slightly more expensive, but can last up to five years and use one-fourth of the energy for the same light output. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends people start by replacing the five most-used lights in their home.

Most homes leak 30 to 50 percent of their heat through easily-repaired gaps in vents, ducts or ceiling fixtures, says energy auditor Peter Millar, whose Verdi-based business is Building Energy Solutions.

Energy auditors survey an entire home for leaks and insulation issues. Most homeowners will see instant decreases in their bills after small repairs.

“Even new homes I’ve tested have leaked upwards of a full house of air per hour on a normal winter day,” Millar said.

The Department of Energy also recognizes leaks could be a big problem.

“Even a top-of-the-line, energy-efficient furnace will burn a lot of fuel if the ducts, walls, attic, windows and doors are not insulated and leak,” says the DOE Web site.

Auditor Mary Winston, with Reno-based Energy Masters, says ceilings and fireplaces are the biggest problem areas of a home.

Through convection, hot air usually rises, and can escape to the attic through ceiling fixtures or vents. Once in the attic, air flow and moisture can reduce the ability of insulation materials to retain heat by up to 30 percent, Winston said.

“In other words, you may think you have R38, but you really have R28, because air moves through it,” Winston said. Insulation materials follow a rating system, and R 38 is the minimum rating recommended for homes.

Gaps and folds in insulation can also have dramatic effects on heat retention, she said.

“A 4 percent gap in your insulation could mean a 30 percent loss in insulation value,” Winston said.

Two simple repairs will bring the most bang for the buck: Sealing the ducts and sealing ceiling penetrations. Winston recommends sealing with water-based mastic and foil-backed tape. Use both and embed the tape in the mastic.

Prices for old fashioned wood heating may soon compete with natural gas. Wood hovers around $200 per cord, and each cord lasts on average two months.

Using wood is becoming more and more economical. Average natural gas bills in Northern California were $171, according to Southwest Gas Corp., based on an average usage of 97 therms.

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