Your utility bill a little high this month? Here's how to tame heating costs.

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Even turning back your thermostat a smidge can have an impact

Winter’s bite on heating costs is officially here. The price of a gallon of residential heating oil is now at $4.86 – up from $3.35 a year ago -- and utility forecasters predict that the average heating bill could go up 17% this winter. 

With the U.S. experiencing wave after wave of cold and nasty weather, some consumers are already witnessing the shape of things to come in their utility bills.

But can a homeowner actually do anything about heating costs? ConsumerAffairs reached out to Carrier Heating and Cooling to see what things consumers can do with their furnaces or heat pumps in light of higher heating bills. And from what we were told, it appears that a few simple steps could pay off.

Address any insulation gaps in your home. Brooke Greenwood, associate director, Heating Product Management at Carrier said that keeping your home properly insulated and sealed will prevent thermal loss and cold air infiltration. 

Consider having a qualified heating and ventilation professional assess your space, including square footage, the number and quality of windows in the home, and insulation -- then make a recommendation.  

Keep your heating system well-maintained. Make sure to change air filters regularly, as dirt and debris can build up, causing your system to run less efficiently.

Select a heat source that best fits your needs. Greenwood said that gas furnaces, electric heat pumps and newer variable refrigerant flow systems can all provide residential heating. How much it will cost to run each one?

“That will depend on the size and shape of your rooms, as well as your own temperature preferences,” she said. “However, if your heating system is older, consider upgrading to a newer system. Newer products have made significant strides in energy efficiency.”

The two things to look for when considering a new heating system are:

  • All combustion-type furnaces are rated according to annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The minimum allowed rating for any furnace in the United States is 80%. “However, some of the most efficient models available go well beyond that,” Greenwood said.

  • HVAC systems have SEER ratings (seasonal energy efficiency ratios). What you want to look for is a high number because the higher the number, the better energy efficiency. Greenwood said that the minimum standard is now 13-14, but she’s seen SEER numbers as high as 26. 

Federal tax credits

One money-saving note about buying a new heating system that you might not be aware of is that federal tax credits for high-efficiency equipment have been extended into 2023. To find out whether that applies to you, check with your utility company or manufacturer to see if they offer a rebate. 

Maintain thermostat settings a notch lower than usual. Believe it or not, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from where you would normally set it, so says the Department of Energy.

And if you live in a milder climate, the percentage of savings from setting your thermostat lower is even greater than for those in more severe climates. 

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