How to reduce heating costs and avoid furnace scams

Winterizing your home doesn’t have to be expensive, according to the  Connecticut Better Business Bureau.

While the installation of energy-efficient windows and doors and adding insulation can significantly bring down heat loss during cold months, there are also small fixes that can help reduce energy consumption.

A common winterizing checklist includes:

  • Changing air filters.
  • Installing or re-installing storm windows in the attic to stop warm air from leaking.
  • Clearing gutters to remove debris that could cause rainwater to freeze and damage them.
  • Cleaning ridge vents to allow your house to “breathe.”
  • Putting insulation film over windows to reduce drafts.
  • Inspecting weather stripping for cracks and peeling.
  • Installing a tight-fitting fireplace door or cover to stop the loss of heat through the chimney.

Another way to keep heating bills under control is to compare electricity wholesalers’ prices at energizect.com and select a plan before demand and the cost of electricity increase.

State lawmakers have put into place safeguards to stop wholesalers from the past practices of enticing consumers with a low introductory price, and then hitting them with a significant increase without advance notification.

Consumers who can afford to may pre-purchase heating oil to prevent being subjected to market fluctuations. The cost of heating oil may drop during a mild winter; however, heating oil prices typically rise at this time of year as demand increases. BBB recommends consumers research heating oil suppliers in advance, to ensure they are dealing with a reputable business with an established track record.

Furnace maintenance

A dirty furnace is less efficient, so an annual inspection and cleaning is recommended.

This can also help spot potential problems that can end up leaving your family in the cold if your heating system breaks down.

However, if you are told you need a new furnace, get a second opinion and bid. Some unscrupulous operators attempt to deceive customers, by telling them that there are potentially dangerous problems with their furnace, and that it is unsafe to use.

Nonetheless, a damaged or dirty furnace can emit dangerous fumes. Signs of failure include soot on countertops and vents, and inefficient heating. Fumes also may cause watery eyes, a runny nose and headaches. In such cases, it is best to turn off the furnace and consult an expert.

BBB also recommends the following to winterize your home:

Plug holes. The average American home may have many small air leaks. Though they may not be large, they have a cumulative effect on home heating costs. Make sure windows close tightly. Check for leaks around them and use caulking to plug the leaks.

Consider insulating heating ducts. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that a centrally heated home can lose as much as 60% of warmed air before it reaches vents if the duct work is poorly connected or not insulated, or if it travels through unheated spaces.

Get a chimney checkup. Before lighting the first fire of the season, your chimney should be checked for animals, nests, leaves, and other debris, as well as for any necessary repairs. Select a reputable business or professional, rather than responding to solicitations.

For additional consumer tips, and to research or select professionals you can trust, visit bbb.org.