December 5, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt

With winter at the doorstep and gas prices on the rise, extension specialists from the University of Kentucky have tips for helping homeowners and renters save money on energy costs this season.

According to Kentucky Energy Watch, natural gas prices are expected to increase by about 10 percent this winter to $9.46 per 1,000 cubic feet. This is an 81-cent increase from last year. Robert Fehr, UK extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering, estimated 45 percent of Kentucky households use natural gas as their primary heat source.

An easy way to reduce energy bills is to set thermostats lower when homeowners or occupants are gone or asleep. For every degree thermostats are lowered, people can save up to 4 percent off their heating bills. Heat pumps require special thermostats if a homeowner wants to lower them while they are gone or at night.

Another way to reduce energy bills is to block air leaks. Small gaps around doors, windows and other areas in people’s home may be costing them money and creating cold drafts. Plugging these leaks could save homeowners up to 10 percent on energy bills, and the materials will probably pay for themselves within a year. 

“The more airtight you can get a home, the more it’s going to hold the conditioned air,” said Linda Adler, UK extension specialist for home furnishings.

To find leaks, wait until a windy day. Then hold a lit incense stick up to areas around window and door frames. If the flame flickers, an air current is flowing, Adler said. These places should be caulked and sealed. Also, check areas where plumbing, electrical wiring or ducting enters through exterior walls, floors, and ceilings. These openings may be under sinks or in other places that are hidden from sight, but they still allow cold air to enter your home. If you have pull-down attic stairs, be sure to check for drafts and air exchange here too, she said. 
Plastic film can also be installed on inside frames of older windows to help control drafts. Shrink-wrap plastic kits are inexpensive and available from most hardware and home improvement stores. Plastic film can be a beneficial option for renters looking to save on energy costs because it is easily removed.

Adler said homeowners should inspect and change furnace air filters on a regular basis. Changing filters once a month is recommended, but they should be changed at least once every season. People should write the date on the filter so they will remember when it was last changed. Clogged air filters will reduce the efficiency of furnaces and cause them to work harder. 

“If furnace filters aren’t changed on a regular basis, they won’t be as effective in controlling dust, allergens, and other impurities,” Adler said. 

She recommends people with allergies or asthma get a high efficiency or electronic filter for their furnace. A high efficiency or electronic filter traps more dust and allergens. Before buying a high efficiency filter, check the instruction manual for the furnace or contact a manufacturer to make sure their furnace fan can maintain sufficient airflow. 

When trying to save on energy, people need to consider the airflow within their homes. For example, heating vents need to be kept clear. Vents blocked by rugs and furniture prevent heated air from circulating efficiently. Fans should be used wisely. Kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans serve a purpose. These fans should be used and turned off when they have completed their task. If left on for just one hour, a hard-working ventilation exhaust can force out a houseful of warm air and bring in cold air that must be heated. 

Ceiling fans can be useful all year long since most fans have a reverse option. The reverse option should be used during cold weather months. Since warm air rises, rooms with especially high ceilings will benefit from a ceiling fan set on reverse and run at the lowest speed. This moves the warm air back down toward the floor and creates a more even temperature throughout the room. 

Some people use ceramic heaters to even out heat distribution, but they are not as energy efficient as some think. Fehr said the air comes out of ceramic heaters is hot, but it has nothing to do with energy efficiency or cost.

“A ceramic heater is just a straight resistant electric heater,” Fehr said. “They don’t deliver any more heat than other electric heaters per kilowatt of electricity used.”


Linda Adler, 859-257-7771, Robert Fehr, 859-257-3000 ext. 20