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Conserve energy

The Washington Post

 

Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

 

Q: What do you think is a good temperature to have your heat on during the night? My husband and I fight about this.

 

A: This is a common dispute! The Energy Department recommends setting your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter, lower when you’re away or asleep. Setting it back to the low 60s at night or while you’re out of the house could save up to 10 percent on your heating costs. Of course, where you set your thermostat depends on your comfort level, but I find I sleep better in a cooler room with a nice heavy blanket — and I sleep better knowing I’m saving energy!

 

Q: I prefer to leave my heat on a certain temperature day and night. Am I wasting energy?

 

A: If you’re not home during the day, it’s more energy-efficient to set your thermostat to a lower temperature so you’re not heating an empty house. You may benefit from using a programmable thermostat: If you have a fairly regular schedule, it’s easy to set your thermostat for your home to be cooler when you’re not there (or warmer, in summer months) but have your heating or cooling system turn on so it’s comfortable by the time you walk in the door. The Energy Star website has great tips about how to use a programmable thermostat. You can save up to $180 in annual energy costs, and your utility may even offer a rebate to bring down the cost of the thermostat itself.

 

Q: Can furnace filters help with heating costs and saving on fuel? What type do you recommend?

 

A: Yes! It’s important to replace your furnace filter regularly. I recommend you check it about once a month. A dirty filter means your heating system has to work harder to circulate air around your house, which makes it operate less efficiently and use more fuel. And when your system is constantly running in overdrive, it can fail sooner or cause other issues. As for the type of filter, it’s important to make sure it’s the proper size. Otherwise the filter type depends mostly on your preference (its ability to filter out different allergens, etc.).

 

Q: We keep our thermostat at 68 during the day (we work from home so we’re always here) and 65 at night, but our bedroom is in the basement and gets really cold. So, we run an electric space heater at night. Is there a way to calculate whether it would be cheaper to raise the thermostat on the whole house (gas furnace) vs. warming up just the bedroom with the space heater?

 

A: Sounds like you may be a good candidate for an energy audit. Check with your local utility; many offer energy audits for a reduced cost. An auditor will come to your home and diagnose why your bedroom is cold, and whether it makes more sense to run the space heater or do something such as add more insulation. I’ve had this same issue in my own house and found that adding insulation helped immensely.

 

Q: On super-cold days, we use the wood stove in the basement. Unfortunately the heat doesn’t get upstairs well. Is there something we could be doing to help that warm air migrate up the stairs?

 

A: You may want to consider checking the insulation levels of your house. An energy audit is the best way to do this. While that won’t help directly to get the air up the stairs, adding more insulation will mean the warm air stays in your house rather than escaping through uninsulated nooks and crannies. That means your whole house will be warmer and more comfortable.

 

Q: I have old hot-water radiators in a large Victorian. Given the long response time of the heating system, does it make sense to lower the thermostat during the day and at night, or should I just leave it at a constant temperature?

 

A: I also live in an old house with radiators. I’ve found that it absolutely makes sense from an energy-efficiency perspective to lower the thermostat during the day and at night. I recently installed a “smart” programmable thermostat that I can control from my phone. I set what time I want my house to be warm when I get home, and the thermostat learns how long it takes for my home to warm up.