Natural gas prices are expected to rise 30 percent - or more - this winter, but there are ways homeowners can take the sting out of utility bills, said Bruce Snead, Kansas State University Research and Extension energy and indoor air quality specialist.
"Several factors point towards utility bill shock for those who use natural gas for almost any purpose," he said. "Weather impacts on production and transport facilities, increased demand for electric generation and other purposes, and the unknown severity of winter weather all combine to set the stage for staggering increases."
Reducing energy consumption in the home can help homeowners and, in some cases, apartment dwellers, hold down utility bills, said Snead, who offered these cost-saving tips: Have the furnace cleaned and tuned up annually. A tune-up may include resetting the fuel-air mixture and cleaning the burners and blower to allow maximum airflow and complete combustion necessary for peak performance.
Check the furnace filter monthly and clean -- or replace -- a dirty or otherwise clogged filter that may hamper airflow, making it harder -- and more costly -- for a furnace to do its job.
Lower the thermostat 10 degrees at night or when the family is away at work or school during the day to save as much as 15 percent on home heating costs. Installing a programmable thermostat, which costs about $50, can ensure the home will be warm in the morning or when the family returns.
Lowering the setting on the thermostat a few degrees, from 72 to 68 degrees F also can result in a cost savings. Check for air leaks around windows and doors and add weather stripping or caulking as needed.
If you have windows to the south, open curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sunshine warm your rooms. Close curtains or blinds as the day begins to cool down.
Check the owner's manual and manufacturer's recommendations for setting the thermostat on your hot water heater. A setting of 115 to 120 degrees F will typically provide hot water that is comfortable, yet cost-saving.
Water heaters can last 10 to 15 years, but may become clogged with sediment that interferes with the heat transfer and increases operating costs. Draining as little as a quart of water from the water heater every three months can reduce the build-up. If, however, a hot water heater is seven to 10 years old, consider replacing it with a new, more energy efficient model.
Installing blanket-style insulation on a water heater can further trim costs generally. One caution: Follow manufacturer's instructions for installation. Opt for a shower, rather than a bath. A five-minute shower typically requires about 10 gallons of water, whereas a bath may require 15 to 25 gallons of water. For additional savings, install a low-flow showerhead.
For laundry, opt for a cold water wash with detergents formulated to get the job done.
With a dishwasher, avoid using the rinse-and-hold feature and wait until you have a full load before using the dishwasher. To save more, allow dishes to air dry.
Use kitchen and bathroom vents sparingly. The vents are designed to remove moisture from the interior of the home, but may also remove warm air and increase overall energy costs. Indoor air tends to be dry during winter months. Consider excessive condensation on windows as a signal to use the vent.
Close doors, including the garage door, promptly. If a garage is attached to the house and the door is left open, a blast of cold air can chill rooms close by.
More information on energy conservation in the home is available at local and district Extension offices and the Energy Extension link library: www.engext.ksu.edu/ees/henergy/linklibrary.html.