Dear EarthTalk: This winter is shaping up to be one of the coldest in recent memory where I live. What can I do to reduce my home heating bill now and in the future?
—Eric Lenz, Seattle, WA
Whether global warming is somehow to blame or not, much of the United States is getting walloped this winter. The Seattle area has suffered its most significant and lingering snowfall—and lower than average winter temperatures—in decades. Even Los Angeles is getting a nasty taste of winter, with several days topping out at the freezing mark on the thermometer. And other parts of the country more used to challenging winter weather have been getting an extra dose of wind, snow and ice this year as well.
Besides the cold, another challenge this wintry weather presents, especially during such trying economic times, is higher heating bills. Heating typically accounts for about 28 percent of the average American home’s energy use, but this year staying warm might occupy a larger slice of the household expenditure pie. Homeowners who take a few simple steps to make their homes more weather-tight, though, just might be amazed to see their heating bills go down while they languish inside their toasty and warm homes.
If you’re a handy person and your draft issues are minor, you might want to go around and assess just where cold air seems to be coming in—and then caulk, putty or insulate to your heart’s content. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC"s) green-living oriented SimpleSteps.org website, small gaps around windows, light fixtures and plumbing are easy to cover with caulk. Large drafty areas that are protected from moisture and sunlight can be covered with expanding foam sealant, while a little weather-stripping around door jambs goes a long way toward keeping the cold out.