This winter, heat your home more efficiently

Though Gwinnett homeowners don't have to worry about shoveling snow during the winter, there are other seasonal concerns here in Georgia.

In particular, the rising cost of utilities has prompted worries about the increased cost of home heating. Though this winter's weather has been mild so far, using energy wisely is still important.

Two local heating and air conditioning experts offered advice for those who want to be sure their heating equipment is in good working order. Efficient heating systems can help homeowners save both energy and money.

"The biggest thing they can do is change their filter. That will save a lot of trouble right off the bat," said Steve Coyne, owner Air South Heating and Air Conditioning of Lawrenceville.

Filters help keep dirt from getting into the heating system, which can cause it to work less efficiently, Coyne said.

Setting the thermostat lower is another way to save energy, Coyne said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests homeowners set the temperature at 68 degrees in the winter.

Switching to a digital thermostat is an inexpensive way to save money, said Rich O'Driscoll, owner of A-One Heating and Cooling in Lawrenceville. These thermostats can be programmed to automatically change to different temperatures at night or when people leave their houses.

In the winter, homeowners should also be careful when using their kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, O'Driscoll said. "They're pulling the heated air out of the house," he said.

New air needs to be heated to replace the air removed from the home, O'Driscoll explained. "Most people don't think about it," he said.

Sealing the house

Insulation is very important for heating efficiency. Those who own older homes should definitely think about updating their insulation to save money on heating bills, Coyne said. This could cost between $500 and $700, he estimated.

"Ultimately, you'll make your money back," Coyne said.

Homeowners should also make sure their houses are properly sealed, according to the EPA. The agency offers an online do-it-yourself guide to home sealing at www.energystar.gov.

Tips for cutting down on drafts include caulking window and door frames and placing exterior caulk where the window or door frames meet brick or wood on the outside of the home.

Installing an updated heating system can also help homeowners use energy more wisely. At his home, Coyne uses an electric heat pump, which saves him money on utilities.

All homeowners should check their heating systems to see if they have leaks, O'Driscoll said. "People can check their systems and see if they feel any air, then seal anywhere they feel air," he said.

Even homeowners who have relatively new heating systems need to make sure their equipment is in good working order.

O'Driscoll visits his customers with newly installed heating and air systems twice a year. Warranties on the equipment could be considered void by the manufacturers if the equipment isn't checked often enough, O'Driscoll said.

During routine maintenance inspections, heating and air professionals can also help homeowners discover problems that could lead to wasted energy, Coyne said. He typically charges between $60 to $80 to examine a home heating system.

However, many homeowners still don't have their furnaces inspected, Coyne said.

"It's like going to the dentist. You don't have to go, but sooner or later, you'll regret it," Coyne said.