Nov. 2, 2010 -- It's cold outside. Is your home ready for the coming winter?
Drafts in your home can be annoying, but they can also make your energy costs soar.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing drafts in your home can lower your energy costs from 5 to 30 percent.
Wall Street Journal columnist Wendy Bounds appeared today on "Good Morning America" to talk about cheap, easy ways to winterize your home and save yourself some money.
Click HERE to find out about tax credit and weatherization programs in your state.
Prevent Drafts, Save Money
If a draft is near a thermostat, it can cause the thermostat to actually turn on your furnace when it's not necessary. Bounds said she likes and uses double-sided draft stoppers like the Twin Draft Guard.
The products work on doors and many windows. Bound said you can cut the length of foam to fit your door or window and then slide it underneath the frame. The product has a draft guard on either side, and you can use it on most doors as long as the threshold doesn't prevent you from closing it.
You can also stop smaller leaks around windows with some DIY caulking. There are some new products to make the job easy and affordable.
For example, the brand new Practecol Door and Window all-in-one caulk kit, currently available at Target, features a 6-ounce tube of water-resistant, paintable caulk that is suitable for indoor and outdoor use with an easy-to-use applicator tool built into the cap.
The tube contains enough caulking for numerous small repairs or for doing one entire door or window, Bounds said.
Price: $4.99 at Target
Larger jobs may require more caulk. Groov, a new product from GE, is good even for those who have no caulking skills. It performs like silicone, so it doesn't shrink or crack, but it can be painted within 30 minutes of application, Bounds said.
It's less sticky that most caulks, so it doesn't get caught on fingers and hands.
Price: About $8; available at most major home improvement retailers
Window Insulation Kit
It's a good idea to remove window air conditioner units for the winter. You can get a window insulation kit such as the 3M Indoor Window Kit to cover the area. The kit contains a plastic sheet that can be stretched over the window. You can blow dry the plastic for a tight fit.
Price: About $20 at most major home improvement stores
Considering New Insulation?
For those of you who may be up to a bigger job, now may be the right time for new insulation.
If you do it now, you can get tax credits to upgrade your insulation, fireplace or furnace but don't wait too long. Those credits expire at the end of the year.
Nearly one-third of all homeowners who participated in a recent survey said they planned to install insulation in the next two years. Whether it's in your attic or in walls that are open, if you're doing a renovation, insulation can make a huge difference in comfort and energy bills.
There's money to help homeowners make the project affordable. For instance, bulk insulation products can qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit up to $1,500 through year's end, so long as products come with a manufacturer's certification statement. The tax credit offer ends at the end of December.
Retailers are offering incentives for the purchase of insulation. A recent promotion by Lowe's offers customers a gift card of between $100 to $200 if they buy a certain type of insulation.
Great deals are available on a new website called Diggerslist.com, where people sell left over building materials. Check to see if your city has any listings.
Also, go to the Web site of your local utility to see what rebates they might offer.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program gives money to states to help low-income families weatherize their homes.
Click HERE to find out about weatherization programs in your state.
A good place to learn about air leak sealing and insulation is www.energysavers.gov. To see more about the tax credits and see what rebates or aid might be available in your state, Click HERE to go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
The Facts on Fireplaces and Chimneys
Traditional fireplaces are notoriously inefficient, but if you want to keep your old fireplace, there is a better way to do it.
Open fireplaces seem romantic and cozy but are typically energy guzzlers, pulling heat out of the house and up the chimney. Alternatives such as free-standing wood and pellet stoves and fireplace inserts with insulated doors, or even newer open fireplaces, can raise efficiency significantly and there are all sorts of new modern designs alternatives for homeowners. On average, a new hearth appliance can save 20 to 40 percent on heating bills, according to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association.
Make sure you get your chimney cleaned and that it is properly lined so you don't get a chimney fire. If you aren't using your fireplace, keep the damper closed and stick some insulation, such as Roxul stone wool -- which is fire-resistant - up inside around the damper to prevent drafts. Just remember to take it out before you light a fire!
One alternative to burning wood in your old fireplace is MojoBricks. These are new compressed wood bricks that burn super-hot and are less of a mess. It's good for people who use their fireplaces.
Bounds said people can upgrade existing fireplaces with new wood/pellet/gas "inserts," which essentially are big stoves that can slip into the old fireplace opening and make the hearth really efficient. You can get the $1,500 tax credit for this.
If you want to replace your fireplace, it's going to cost you.
Prices differ by region, but on average an installed free-standing wood or pellet (compressed sawdust) stove costs between $3,000 and $4,200, according to the hearth association. But you can get help to pay for nearly one-third of that bill with a federal energy efficiency tax credit of 30 percent up to $1,500 on certain efficient wood and pellet stoves through the end of this year. Check with the retailer and ask for the manufacturer's certification statement to ensure that the one you've picked out qualifies.
Bounds said she upgraded two years ago to a high-efficiency wood stove in her basement, and cut my heating bills by roughly one-third. Several websites including the EIA's and Pellet Fuels Institute offer fuel-comparison calculators.
There is another option. The EcoSmart fireplace that burns bioethanol fuel. It helps you zone your heat.
EcoSMart fireplaces are unique because they use clean-burning bioethanol fuel. That means no ash, no soot, no smoke, no chimney, so all the heat made by the fire stays in the room. You can buy standalone units or you can buy insert units which can sit right in an old fireplace.
And speaking of zoning?
The Activent Temperature-Controlled Vent Register allows you, with the use of a wireless thermostat, to control which rooms in your house to keep warm.
The Activent is easy to install, and it's affordable (about $50 a vent). Like a fireplace, you can choose which rooms of your house to keep warm. If you know you're going to be in the bedroom, use your Activent to turn down the heat in the other rooms! This product can save you money on your utility bills.
Replace that Old Furnace
Guess what? It's time to get rid of your old furnace.
As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. You may want to consider replacing your equipment if it's more than 20 years old or if its efficiency rating is particularly low in the 50 to 70 percent range. Many modern conventional heating systems can get efficiencies in the 90 percent range.
Of course, this is a significant investment -- $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the system you install -- but you could see a marked improvement on energy bills. Plus, boilers and furnaces with the highest energy-efficiency ratings may also qualify for the 30 percent tax credit of up to $1,500.
Find out more at energystar.gov. Your local utility may also offer rebates on certain high-efficiency equipment so check with them at that website we mentioned.
Other Ways to Save By Upgrading Your Furnace
Federal energy efficient tax credit can save you up to 30 percent -- up to $1,500 - for qualifying high-efficiency heating equipment. Visit energystar.gov
Cash for appliances rebates. Money is still left in some states from an existing federal appliance rebate program. You can get extra cash back in certain states for energy efficient appliances, including heating equipment.
Go to www.energysavers.gov and click on the map to find out if rebates are left in your state and what qualifies.
Utility rebates. Your local utility may offer rebates on new efficient heating and cooling equipment, so check with them or go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
Manufacturer/retailer rebates. Heating equipment makers are offering good deals right now, such as up to $1,300 cash back on certain products. Check with dealers.
The fireplace featured on "GMA" today was provided by Desiron. CLICK HERE to visit Desiron.com.