Home Heating Info for Do-It-Yourselfers

person holding filter next to gas furnace

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your house. Typically, 44 percent of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. What's more, heating and cooling systems in the United States together emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, adding to global warming. They also generate about 24 percent of the nation's sulfur dioxide and 12 percent of the nitrogen oxides, the chief ingredients in acid rain.

No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. But remember, an energy-efficient furnace alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole-house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weather proofing, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy bills and pollution output in half.

Household Heating Systems

Although there are several different types of fuels available to heat our homes, about half of us use natural gas.

Heating Tips

person adjusting a thermostat on the wall

  1. Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.
  2. Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
  3. Clean warm air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  4. Bleed trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.
  5. Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  6. Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely; in just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.
  7. Keep draperies and shades open on south-facing windows during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  8. Close an unoccupied room that is isolated from the rest of the house, such as in a corner, and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. However, do not turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system. For example, if you heat your house with a heat pump, do not close the vents, which could harm the heat pump.
  9. Select energy-efficient equipment when you buy new heating equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label. The ENERGY STAR® is a program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designed to help consumers identify energy-efficient appliances and products.

One Btu, British thermal unit, is roughly equivalent to burning one kitchen match. That may not sound like much, but a typical home consumes about 100 million BTUs per year. Approximately one-half of the total is used for space heating.

Gas and Oil Heating Systems

glowing space heater

If you plan to buy a new heating system, ask your local utility or state energy office for information about the latest technologies available to consumers. They can advise you about more efficient systems on the market today. For example, many newer models incorporate designs for burners and heat exchangers that result in higher efficiencies during operation and reduce heat loss when the equipment is off.