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Do It Yourself

Heat Strokes


We know it's spring, but what a wacky season it's been so far. And there could be a few more chilly nights to come. Here are some easy-to-do and inexpensive ways you can make your home more comfortable and keep your heating bills under control.

These energy-saving ideas aren't complicated. Many take little time and don't even require the purchase of materials, only changing a habit or two. Others can be done for as little as $10.

Also, the 36-page "Energy Savers" is available free from the U.S. Department of Energy. It features more than 100 easy and practical energy-saving tips. Get the booklet by calling (800) 363-3732, or point your browser to

Adjust Water Heater

Lower the water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees.

Take showers, not baths. According to the Department of Energy, the average bath consumes up to 25 gallons of hot water; a five-minute shower uses up much less--only about 10 gallons.

Equipping your shower stalls with low-flow shower heads ($10) also dramatically reduces the consumption of water, both hot and cold.

Rapid Cycling

Rapid cycling--when a heating system fires on and off--wastes money. It occurs because of a heat-anticipation feature on thermostats that maintains a near-constant room temperature. Most electronic setback thermostats are programmed to act when they sense a 1- to 1 1/2-degree drop.

If the thermostat is misprogrammed to less than 1 degree, the heater may go into rapid cycle, firing every three minutes or less to maintain temperature. To stop rapid cycling, make sure the "cycle-rate adjustment" in the thermostat setup mode reads from 1 degree to 1 1/2 degree. If you change it, move it higher.

On most mechanical thermostats, the amperage scale is set from 0.1 to 1.2 amps. To defeat rapid cycling, set the arrow one notch higher. Let it cycle for 24 hours before adjusting it again.

Lower Thermostat

Each degree you lower the thermostat on your heating system decreases your fuel bill 3%. Going from 72 degrees down to 68 degrees doesn't matter much in terms of comfort, but it can save up to 12% on your heating bill.

If you're using a coil-type thermostat, you'll get more accurate readings if you clean it. Pop off the thermostat cover and blow or gently swipe away the dust.

Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day because you don't need to keep your home at 68 degrees around the clock. Although one shouldn't be used with heat pumps, a programmable thermostat is a real money-saver with air-conditioning too.

Choose a setting on the low end when you're sleeping or are away and go with a higher setting at other times for savings of between 10% and 20% of your bill. Some units can store up to four temperature settings each day--morning, day, evening, night. All have a manual override switch.

Three models from Hunter Fan are typical. The Set & Save 100 ($30) lets you program one five-day stretch and a two-day period. With the Set & Save 250 ($40), you program one five-day stretch and two other separate days. The Set & Save 350 ($55) provides the most flexibility, with individual programs for all seven days. The units use AA batteries to maintain the display if the power goes off and to hold settings.

You can easily install a thermostat yourself. Always follow manufacturer's instructions, but typically you remove the old thermostat and unscrew the wire leads attached to the terminals on the back. Reattach those wires to the new thermostat's terminals, after inserting mounting screws in the wall, if necessary. (If you have separate heating and A/C units that use the same thermostat, you may find four leads, two for each unit.)

Typical settings for programmable thermostats:

For Heat

6 a.m. to 9 a.m.: 68 degrees

9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.: 60 degrees

5:30 to 11 p.m.: 68 degrees

11 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 60 degrees

For Air-Conditioning

6 a.m. to 9 a.m.: 75 degrees

9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.: 80 degrees

5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.: 75 degrees

11 p.m. to 6 a.m.: 80 degrees

Furnace Filter

If you have a forced-air system, changing the furnace filter can save energy (up to 5%) and keep dust down in the house. The system will last longer and be less likely to break down. The most popular 16-by-20-inch duct filter costs around 50 cents when bought by the box. Change them monthly during heating season.

Measure your air filter before shopping; they come in various sizes.

An alternative to swapping out the replacement filter is to use washable filters (around $20 each). With care, they can last five years.

Fireplace Damper

An open fireplace damper lets the same amount of heated air escape up the chimney as a wide-open 48-inch window lets out. Make sure your flue is closed when you don't have a fire going.

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