Lowering the heat saves residents money

By Grace Rebekah Kenney

With the onset of the winter season and the current state of the economy, local residents can expect a jump in heating bill prices. However, there are a variety of ways renters and homeowners can both conserve energy and reduce their heating bills.

Paul Lockhart, owner of Champaign Heating & Air, said the first step in reducing heating bills is for tenants to inspect their furnaces.

“A lot of rental properties have old coal burners that are still converted to gas burners,” Lockhart said. “They have an inefficiency of 50 or 60 percent. The lowest efficiency you can install by law is 80 percent.”

Lockhart said that newer technology, albeit more expensive, can still be more efficient in the long run. He is anticipating to save between $50 and $100 each month with the installation of a new furnace.

Another way Lockhart said that residents can conserve heat is by buying door, window and weather stripping. If windows are especially bad, there are plastic kits available to place over windows.

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    “Check around your apartment or house and see if you can feel anywhere you’re getting a breeze,” Lockhart said.

    He also stressed checking electrical and switch outlets, as the insulation in walls can sometimes be very thin.

    Going to the opposite extreme of turning off the heating completely can actually cost more money, said Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union.

    “If they turn the heat off over winter break, their pipes will freeze and break,” Patt said. “They’re going to owe the landlord thousands of dollars for damage.”

    Patt said there are many factors that lead to higher heating bills, including the location of the room, number of roommates and thermostat level. But for those who still want to avoid the huge jump in the price of bills during the winter, Patt mentioned another way to avoid that extreme.

    “Ameren IP provides the option of levelized billing,” she said. “It basically takes the cost over the course of the last 12 months, and you pay the same amount every month.”

    However, another option to ensure that renters and homeowners do not have to pay an exorbitant amount during the winter season is by taking their own steps to get involved.

    Susan Salzman, property maintenance supervisor for the city of Champaign, said that although landlords are required to make furnace inspections once a year, residents can still do more.

    “Tenants should regularly change the filters in their furnaces if they have access to them,” Salzman said. If the furnace is dirty, it needs to be cleaned out, vacuumed or serviced.

    Patt said the best way to save money is to turn the heat down.

    “In general keeping your thermostats set lower and wearing sweaters and putting an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning the heat up are obvious ways to save,” Patt said.