Making Your Home Energy Efficient

for the Winter - Part I

It could be a really cold winter, but probably not for the reason that first comes to mind.

The first reason is that, like everyone has said these past few mild winters, we’re going to pay and pay big for January days where the temperature is 63 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s little snow and for seemingly no reason at all we get a couple 70-degree days tossed in at the end of February or beginning of March.

It’s the second reason you have to worry about.

Depending on which think tank you wish to believe, natural gas prices are going to zoom almost straight up this winter, just like gasoline prices did this summer. Some are saying the increase could reach 45 percent over last winter (according to a recent Free Press article, if your heating bill last year was around $565, a 44-percent increase would pump up that figure to $814.

There’s another similarity. No one seemed to know –– really, definitively know –– why gasoline prices jump and then slowly dropped to sort of where they had been. Same deal with natural gas. No one seems to have a lock on the real reason we all might have to worry about heating costs.

However, Mike Frentz, of Frentz and Sons Hardware, does have some ways you can fight back and not give every nickel you bring home to your local natural gas provider. It’s hard to think about this when the temperature is in the 70s, but, you’ll be glad you did when the old cold north wind starts to blow.

We’re breaking this into two parts: This week, the things to look for around your home, the simple things, that could be costing you a lot of money. Next week, we’ll go into how what to do about them.

• Mike’s brother, John, admonished him a while ago to stop calling those things that make water warm “hot water heaters.” “Why would anyone want to heat hot water?” John asked Mike, until the point was pounded in. Heating water in your home is expensive, winter or summer. The way around it is to use less water without making it seem like less. That calls for a little device that restricts the water flow from faucets and shower heads. You can buy one that will decrease the flow from 7.6 gallons per minute to 2 gallons.

• Mike says, if your water heater is relatively new, don’t necessarily worry about draining it every month. “I did that with a clear hose, and there was absolutely no sediment to be seen,” Mike says. Now, he’s on the city’s water main. If you have a well, it’s a different story and draining the tank every couple months might get rid of sediment from minerals in the water, which is a good idea. “But basically, the water is pretty clean around here.” What you can do is put an insulated blanket around the water heater. Or just plain turn down the temp 5°.

• Inspect your home. Look at the mortar around the doors and windows –– is it cracked? That’s an air leak. Old windows are sure to leak, “particularly the double-hung, wooden windows many people still have in their homes. And there are no storm windows adequately made for them,” Mike says, adding the same problem holds true for older (more than 20 years) windows with aluminum or steal casement frames. However, there is a plastic storm window kit maid by Warps that can be applied inside your home, against the window. When applied properly, you’ll have to look twice to know it’s there, but it will cut the drafts and conserve a lot of heat.

• For larger jobs, such as a gap between a wall and a pipe that’s coming into the house, or under window boxes, a place Mike says people usually don’t consider, there’s a compound you can spray in and it will expand into a Styrofoam-like substance to fill the spot and eliminate drafts, or at least keep heat from escaping.

• Check the furnace. The easiest thing and often most effective is to put in a new filter, Mike says, and he adds not to be embarrassed –– putting it in the right way is important, and asking questions about which way is the right way is fine. Another thing to watch for around this time of the year are the companies that offer to come out and clean your furnace without inspecting it. “Get a local business that’s been doing it for a while. For example, we use Royal Oak Heating and Cooling on 11 Mile. They’re on their third generation of owners. All my brothers use them, too, and they always inspect, and they’re in here all the time –– I know the kind of work they do.” More on inspections and thermostats next week, and why a digital thermostat may be a bit more pricey than the manual model off the shelf, but it does save money over the winter.