Release Date: November 22, 2010

Nick Mueller column: Plenty of ways to save money during winter

The Post-Crescent

The shovel still has dust on it, but not for long, and the rake has already gone through the paces. A few sustainable solutions to common cold conundrums may be just the nog to whet your palette for the season, and perhaps save you a buck or two in the process.

Stopping heat loss during a Wisconsin winter can be done with caulks and sealants but they do nothing to help heat a space. Windows can help heat your space -- with a little help from the sun, of course.

Windows oriented to all directions except north, have direct exposure to the sun for at least part of the day, and south-facing windows have the greatest potential as a heat source. The angle of the sun at noon June 1 in the Fox Valley is approximately 68 degrees. Exterior shading devices, such as soffits or awnings, do an excellent job of keeping much of the sun's direct rays and allow air conditioners to work less.

The opposite is true in winter. At noon Jan. 1, the sun's angle is only at about 23 degrees in the sky, a whopping 45 degrees lower. Because the sun is lower in the sky, it is able to penetrate into your windows differently -- your window treatments could block the warm sun from heating your home or business. Free, natural heat is available every day of the winter but you have to make sure you keep blinds and curtains open. Any free heat you gain from the sun is less work your furnace or boiler has to do, which means less energy used and less cost to you.

As the winter sun goes down, try closing your curtains. If even just a little, window treatments can help provide additional insulation at window openings. This type of passive solar control is a simple way to get the most benefit from Mother Nature without costing you a penny in improvements.

Once your windows are working for you, make sure you're using your programmable thermostat correctly.Don't have one? Programmable thermostats can be installed for a minimal cost.

According to Energy star.gov, there are some simple misconceptions and or tips that should be addressed in order to ensure your programmable thermostat is working as efficiently as possible.

First, keep the temperature set at its energy savings set-points for at least eight hours. Constantly tweaking the settings over short periods of time means more starts and stops for your furnace, which expends more energy. Limiting starts and stops also can help to prolong the life of your furnace.

Second, all thermostats let you temporarily make an area warmer or cooler, without erasing the pre-set programming.

Third, programmable thermostats usually have two types of hold features: hold/permanent/vacation and temporary. Avoid using the hold/permanent/vacation feature to manage day-to-day temperature settings."Hold" or "vacation" features are best when you're planning to be away for an extended period.

Fourth, cranking your unit up to 90 degrees or down to 40 degrees, for example, will not heat or cool your house any faster.

Fifth, since you're already purchasing batteries for your stocking stuffers, don't forget about your thermostat. Some units will indicate when batteries must be changed, otherwise a change yearly is in order -- about the same time you change your furnace filter works well.

How easy was that? You've now added opening the curtains to your morning routine to allow for some free winter heating, and we've learned how to properly operate our programmable thermostats so the two are working in harmony. This means more warmth and less heating costs.