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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Winter Furnace Blues

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

By now, I think most of you have realized that my articles are inspired by my life experiences. Many real estate agents purchase content for their blogs. I wouldn’t condemn you to canned content written by someone else! The horror! 😱

The Winter Furnace Blues

On that note, today’s article is inspired by the furnaces haunting my life and those of my clients. We live in Michigan! (Well, most of us do; my special out of state readers also live in cold climates.) Our furnace is the lifeline that connects us from September to April.

According to energy.gov, your heating costs typically make up 29% of your utility bill. So this week, we’re examining how to help your furnace help you, the rising cost of natural gas and that age-old debate of how to schedule your thermostat temperatures to save the most cash-o-la!

Embarrassing Confession Time

I try to keep you entertained early and often, so let’s just start out with my own embarrassing story from this year. When it came time to flip our furnace on for the winter, I thought to myself “Oh, I better change the furnace filter . . . wait, when did I do that last?”. Answer: I have no idea.

Whoops!

My lack of maintenance showed. The filter was disgusting. I forgot to grab photos but I’m adding in my instagram video on this topic below so you can see that nasty in its full glory. (It’s bad, guys 😂)

The point here is you need to know how often to replace your filter and then you need to . . . actually remember to replace it. Those skinny 1-inch filters need to be changed every 1-3 months.

Why, you ask? A clogged filter will restrict the airflow in your system. Less air flow makes the system work harder as it tries to force air through that dirty filter. If your system is working harder to heat your home, you will have higher energy bills and a house that is colder than it would otherwise be.

After this particular furnace fail, I just went ahead and set a reoccurring reminder on my calendar to change the filter. I ordered a 6-pack online so I wouldn’t have to think about buying new filters for the year.

Choking Off the Air Flow

I am personally guilty of this one, AND I frequently see it in action when I’m showing homes to clients. If you have areas in your home you are not using (I usually see it in the basement!), you can close off the vents to save cash, right? Well, apparently that line of reasoning is wrong, wrong, wrong!

According to saveonenergy.com, your heating system is designed to utilize static pressure in its quest to heat your home. Closing vents will increase the pressure, which can restrict or stop the air pressure in your home. Samesies for closing interior doors for long periods of time.

This recommendation basically distills down to ensuring that the heated air is able to flow throughout your house, both through the vents and throughout the home itself.

What about those rooms that just get way too hot? or that dining room chair that is straight-up uncomfortable to sit in (I see you, baby brother!)? We have a bathroom in our house that is just toasty warm all the time, which I enjoy, but maybe you have a room that is uncomfortably hot. Saveonenergy.com recommends closing those vents half way to reduce the output, but still allow the air to flow.

The other piece of this puzzle is when vents accidentally become closed off. How you ask? In my house, this happens with a little help from none other than DJ ROOMBA! Okay, fine, mine is just a plain Roomba.

Our main floor vent covers have a super sensitive lever to slide them open or closed. When the Roomba glides over them – fine, crashes over them – it will often slide the vents closed. Other culprits may include children, grandchildren and pets. One day I’ll get around to changing out the covers. For now, I just try to inspect them after the Roomba is done crashing around my dining area.

If you live any of these scenarios, try to make it a habit to regularly check to verify vents are open.

Restricting the Air Flow

While researching for this article, I came a cross a delightful thread on houzz.com titled “Help! Vents are killing my furniture placement plans!” I think we’ve all run into this at some point in our lives. This thread has a raging debate over couch placement in regards to supply vents and cold air returns.

The HVAC design gods set up your HVAC system to ensure the entire home receives adequate heating and cooling and allows the system to operate in the most efficient manner. Their design goal is often at odds with our personal design goal of having a functional home that works well with our furniture.

Placing furniture over vents and air returns creates a similar issue to closing the vents. Several searches revealed creative design ideas to get around this issue. For example, you can add an open-footed table behind the couch to all the vent to do its job.

But sometimes, there’s only one place you can fit a bed in that bedroom! In this case, you can look to something like this register extender to try to keep the air from getting trapped under the bed.

Rising Costs of Natural Gas

I talk a lot about the costs of electricity as it relates to our solar panels, but your home, and usually your furnace, is likely powered by natural gas as well. Unfortunately, natural gas is getting more expensive.

According to the U.S. Energy information Administration, natural gas bills will increase across the U.S. this winter. Even worse, they expect natural gas prices in the Midwest to increase the most, with a 27% increase over last winter (versus that national average of 22%).

With colder temperatures expected, they expect average household usage to increase by 5%.

So, you’ll need more heat AND it’s more expensive. You’ve been warned.

This issue personally hit home for my family this year. I’ve used the Budget-Wise Billing service with Consumers Energy for close to a decade now. If you aren’t familiar with this type of service, Consumers basically does a 12-month look back at your gas usage, projects costs for the future year and divides by 12 so you are paying a set price monthly. Once a year, you settle up depending on whether you overpaid or underpaid. We are monthly budget people, so this system works for us.

In September, I received a notice that my monthly payment would go from $63/mo to $106/mo, a monthly increase of 68%!!! For context, my monthly bill had never increase by more than $5 in a year. I had never had a jump like this before.

Here’s what Consumers had to say on the increase:

Inflation strikes again!!

So head’s up, winter will be more expensive. If you want to consider doing a full home energy audit, you can go back and read this article from last year.

Thermostat Settings

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it’s best to keep your thermostat at 68°F during bulk time you’re awake and at home. You can then aim to drop the temperature 7-10° for an 8+ hour span. This routine can save you up to 10% on your bill.

The timing of your 8-hour span of lower temps is up to you. Maybe you are a person who prefers lots of blankets while your nose freezes at night. Gone all day at work? Drop the heat while you’re out of the house.

While you are at it, check the placement of your thermostat. You don’t want it located in any space where conditions affect its ability to do its one job.

You don’t want the thermostat anywhere drafty – think vents, doors or windows. Also avoid areas that receive direct sunlight or near other heat sources, such as a fireplace. Both these factors will alter your thermostat’s ability to know your home’s true internal temperature, which may have your heat running unnecessarily or not running when it actually should be pumping out heat.

Thanks for joining me this week for the winter furnace blues! Hopefully this article helps you get prepared for winter. As always, I’m here to help with all your homeowner questions, concerns and dreams!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. New member here and really enjoyed reading my first article from you. Thanks

    1. I’m thrilled you are joining me! I am always open to article suggestions and comments.

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