If you gasped at warm weather prices at the gas pump, your winter heating bills are sure to leave you breathless, too.
You'll probably be forced to dig deeper into your pocket to pay for comfy surroundings, if home heating oil and natural gas prices continue their forecast climbs to high levels.
All this is still more evidence to one residential energy expert that consumers can't take for granted even small energy savings. To Michael Chenard, every watt and BTU conserved adds up.
"It's the rare home that doesn't need to save energy," says Chenard, director of environmental affairs for Lowe's, the home store chain. "There's a long way to go toward efficiency, and it's usually the small things that save energy and money."
The energy hogs remain incandescent light bulbs and cracks around doors, windows and foundations. Neither seems to be a big deal, but the collective impact on energy use is huge.
A bright idea to save at least $60 a year is to switch out five incandescent bulbs for any of the new varieties of compact fluorescent lights. CFL bulbs are available in sizes to fit nearly any fixture. Each bulb uses two-thirds less energy to operate.
The problem with incandescent bulbs is that most of the energy is converted to heat. Nearly all electricity to power CFL bulbs is converted to light. Although the initial cost is higher than old-style bulbs, fluorescents last six to 10 times longer. You won't replace bulbs nearly as often.
Energy efficiency extends to strings of holiday lights, too. New LED (light-emitting diode) lights are cool to the touch, are brighter and longer lasting than traditional bulbs, more impact resistant and save a bundle on energy consumption.
Chenard urges homeowners to wake up to the "sleeper" of home energy losses: cold air leaks in and around a house. Cumulative leaks in older homes are equivalent to leaving a window wide open in winter. "All it takes is a tube of caulk to fill nuisance openings," Chenard suggests.
Caulk fills small crevices well, but to plug large 1/2-inch to 3-inch gaps, apply new low-expansion foams from Dow. The $5 foam quickly expands to seal off drafts. Larger openings should be shut off with rigid foam insulation.
Still, homeowners for years fixated on big ticket items like attic insulation. That's OK, but if you used "blow in" insulation, you should check the loft and "top off" with more insulation if it has settled. "Blow in" varieties can settle by as much as one-third after a few years.
Of course, preventive maintenance of heating systems is always a good idea. Have experts inspect the system as the heating season warms up. More than energy use is at stake: Inspections can uncover carbon monoxide leaks. And remember to change air filters every three months to keep heating systems running efficiently.