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For immediate release: November 19, 2003
Media Contact: Rob Schlichting - 916-654-4989

Protect Yourself from
Higher Energy Costs this Winter

Count on it - This winter, energy prices are going up.

In August, the U.S. Department of Energy predicted this winter's natural gas prices will increase more than 13 percent above those from last winter. Pacific Gas & Electric has already announced that natural gas bills for homeowners this September were 38 percent higher than they were one year ago.

The price increase is caused by escalating wholesale costs of natural gas across the country. While the federal government predicts supplies will be adequate (unless something catastrophic happens), the higher price of natural gas will likely cause the price of propane and fuel oil to go up as well.

Although sources from the National Weather Service to the Old Farmer's Almanac predict a drier, milder-than-usual winter for California, higher prices means that heating costs in most of the state will consume an increasingly larger portion of a household's energy budget. That's why it's more important than ever to check your home to insure that your heating dollars aren't being wasted.

As winter approaches, use this checklist of simple ways to make your home more comfortable and keep those escalating energy bills at bay.

Check for leaks

Weatherstripping and caulking is probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of the homeowner's heating dollars. Take these steps:

  • Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping, and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors seal properly. If your windows leak really badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Keep in mind, however, that replacing windows can be expensive. But new windows also provide other benefits, such as improved appearance and comfort.

  • Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the wall or ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal each penetration with caulking or weather-stripping.

  • Electric wall plugs and switches can allow in cold air. Purchase simple-to-install, pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate and effectively prevent leaks.

  • Don't forget to close the damper on your fireplace. Of course the damper needs to be open if a fire is burning; but if the damper is open when you're not using the fireplace, your chimney functions as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft. Close that damper - it's an effective energy-saving tip that costs you nothing!

  • Examine your house's heating ducts for leaks. Think of your ductwork as huge hoses; only instead of bringing water into your house, they deliver hot air in winter and cool air in summer. Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak excessively without you knowing it. Leaky ducts can also make rooms hard to heat or air condition; they can make your air conditioner work overtime when it is hot outside, and they can suck pollutants into the house from the places where the ducts are located.

Ducts can become torn, or crushed or flattened. Old duct tape - the worse thing to use to seal ductwork, by the way - will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling heated air into your attic or under the house. It's wasteful. Ducts should not be sealed with cloth tape that uses rubber-based adhesive. Instead, seal them with mastic, metallic tape, plastic tape, cloth tape with butyl adhesive, or with aerosol sealant injected into the ducts. Ducts should be sealed by a trained contractor who has the proper equipment to diagnostically measure the leakage. Contact your utility to find contractors in your area that have been properly trained.

The effort can be worth it. According to field research performed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other researchers, you can save 10 percent or more of your heating or cooling bill by getting your ducts sealed

Check your insulation

  • Insulate your attic. In an older home, that can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Before energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, large amounts of heat can be lost through walls, floors and - since heat rises - especially ceilings.

How much insulation should you install? Typical framed homes now being built in California's Central Valley must meet insulation requirements of R-38 insulation in ceilings, and R-19 for walls and floors.

Check your heating system

  • Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn to make sure it is in good working order.

  • Replace your heater's air filter monthly. Your heating system will work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.

  • If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it. A pre-1977 gas furnace is probably 50 percent to 60 percent efficient today. That means only half of the fuel used by the furnace actually reaches your home as heat. Modern gas furnaces, on the other hand, achieve efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent. By replacing an old heating system with one of the most efficient models, you can cut your natural gas use nearly in half!

If you rely on electricity to heat your home, heat pumps offer the most efficiency. A heat pump can cut your electricity use for heating by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
  • Use your setback thermostat. California houses built today must have them - if you have an older home, consider installing one. A setback thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you're away at work or when you're sleeping at night, and then boost the temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. Remember - it takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long. Properly using your setback thermostat could cut your heating costs from 20 to 75 percent.

  • Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it's cold, however. By reversing the fan's direction, the blades move air upward in winter. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.

And, while you're at the store . . .

  • With shorter days, you'll be using electric lights more often. Buy a few compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace the incandescent bulbs you've used for years. Compact fluorescents have greatly improved; although they cost more to begin with, they use one-quarter the energy and last as much as 15 times as long as incandescents do. Put them in locations where you have the light on often, and you'll recoup the up-front expense more quickly. It's another way to help take the sting out of higher energy bills.

  • Your local utility may have rebates and incentives to help you pay for many of these products and services. Rebates will make these money-saving ideas even more attractive this winter. Call your utility, or check the Energy Commission's on-line rebate database at:


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