It's only September, but this a good time to think about how to save money this winter. There are lots of projects that can be done now that will pay off when things get colder.
Fuel Up Before Prices Rise
For homes warmed by heating oil, many experts recommend filling the tank in the off season (late summer or early fall), when prices are typically lower than in the winter. For example, the current price range in Massachusetts is $3.24-$4.60 a gallon, with an average of $3.69. Last winter, the peak season average price varied from $3.89-$4.09 a gallon. Saving 20 cents to 40 cents or more a gallon to fill a 250-275-gallon aboveground tank or a 500-1,000-gallon underground tank can add up.
Check whether it is still possible to lock into a pre-paid fuel contract or join a heating fuel cooperative buying group to get a discounted rate -- although some homeowners prefer to simply pay current market rate whenever the tank needs filling this winter. Homeowners on a Vermont message board share their experience with pre-buy contracts, while Massachusetts provides a short list of heating oil co-ops in that state.
Don't Wait for a Chill
Regardless of the fuel source, remember to inspect the furnace before it's needed; don't wait until the first cold day of winter. A properly maintained furnace costs less to operate. Simple do-it-yourself furnace maintenance, like replacing the filter or cleaning the vents, can make a difference and generally it only costs about $10-$30 for materials. Or if it's been a few years, a professional furnace tune-up for about $70-$200 could pay off in the long run, by preventing furnace problems before they start. A tune-up should identify needed repairs, but make sure it's clear ahead of time that any additional work beyond what is included in a standard tune-up will only be done with your specific approval. Fly-by-night or unscrupulous companies may try to use a tune-up as an excuse to make unneeded repairs.
Make sure the thermostat is working correctly and, if you haven't already done so, consider adding a programmable thermostat so the system can be set to save energy when you're typically asleep or not at home. Adding a programmable thermostat typically saves about 10% on annual heating and cooling costs, according to Energy.gov.
And if a fireplace is one of your sources of winter warmth, don't forget to have the chimney cleaned, and lay in a supply of firewood.
Seal Everything Tight
Weatherstripping can make a big difference in winter-time heating bills, by reducing the amount of cold air that creeps in and the amount of warm air that escapes through old doors and windows, or even through small openings around electrical switches or outlets. Do-it-yourself supplies typically cost $50-$350.
Check the amount of existing insulation in your house, and consider adding more to improve heat-retention. One of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable all year long is to add insulation in the attic, according to Energy.gov.
Plan for the Worst
For those who live in areas hard hit by storms in recent years, FEMA and the American Red Cross provide tips for getting ready for the worst that Mother Nature can offer.
It may seem a bit early to worry about winter, but a little advance planning and effort can be worthwhile.