How to Reduce the Use of Natural Gas

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Natural gas was once an inexpensive alternative to electricity, but over the past two decades the price of natural gas has increased dramatically. Consumer buying patterns shifted away from electric-powered appliances to gas-powered clothes dryers, water heaters and furnaces during the 1980s, and this created a surge in the demand for gas. Removing gas appliances as they age is one option to lowering a gas bill, but there are other ways to reduce home use. Here are some suggestions, from simple alterations that take a few minutes to long-term changes to the home that will cut gas use and lower the bills.

Things You'll Need

  • Natural gas bill Programmable thermostat Weatherstripping Water-saving aerators High-efficiency showerheads Water heater booster Furnace filter Shower timer
  • Conduct a home energy audit. This allows you to know exactly where energy is used and the precise amount that is spent each year on each type of power source. Use the link in Resources to conduct an online audit of your home. Some electric and gas utility companies offer an in-home audit as a free service. Call to see if the audit is offered in your area.

  • Do regular maintenance. These changes are small but have significant bang for the energy buck. Change the furnace filter each month, or clean a reusable one, and make sure the clothes dryer trap is free from lint. These two small changes will save 5 percent of the natural gas bill each month, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Install a programmable thermostat. The city of Palo Alto, California, reports that every degree of heat adds an additional 2 percent to the monthly bill. Set the thermostat for 68 degrees or below, and program the unit to reduce day temperatures when it's usually warmer and residents are away at work and school. Add blankets to your bed, and program the thermostat to reduce the temperature during the night for additional savings.

  • Add modern technology updates. These changes are quite inexpensive, but they will result in major savings. The least expensive is installation of new low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators. These mean less warm water flowing, but they don't mean that the family should experience less comfort. Aerators spread the water in a fine mist, creating the feeling of a large water flow. A shower timer is another technological update that will save warm water. Some units turn off the music (or the water) after a 3-, 5- or 7-minute shower. The showerhead and faucet aerators will reduce the cost of heating water by half, according to the Energy Department.

  • Add weatherstripping. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 20 percent of gas heating is lost through lack of weatherstripping and insulation. Examine door and window edges to replace worn-out stripping and add weather protection where it is lacking. Check the sides of sash windows. New weatherstripping is available to seal these openings with little effort.

  • Insulate your home. Warm and cool air escapes through the attic, any open crawl spaces, openings around electric outlets and attached garages. All insulation is rated. Check local codes for geographic insulation ratings, however, since money may be lost by "overinsulating" for the local climate. The federal government offers income tax credits for 2009 for home insulation.

  • Modernize appliances. Energy Star dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers will save money. Sit down with your energy audit, your gas bill and a calculator. The U.S. DOE estimates that 20 percent of each gas bill is spent on running these three appliances. Take a shopping trip to inspect the Energy Star labels of new appliances. The cost to run the appliance for the year is printed on the tag. The new appliance savings may justify the purchase. Some localities even offer rebates or credits on your gas bill when you replace old appliances. They'll also take the old item to be recycled.

  • Update doors and windows. New doors and windows are labeled with an Energy Star rating. Higher-rated windows cost more, but if you plan to live in the house for many years, this cost will be offset by use of a natural gas furnace. The federal government offers income tax credits for 2009 for updating windows and entry doors.

  • Use alternative heating in the winter. The U.S. DOE estimates that a heating stove may save up to 30 percent on winter heating costs. Bundle up in sweats, socks or a sweater in the house to save on natural gas. Consider installing a freestanding wood stove, if local code allows this feature. Corn or wood pellet burners are a warm addition to a central living area.

Tips & Warnings

  • Check your natural gas bill for the month. Most utility companies print a price comparison for last year and the current month on the bottom of the bill. If this is not listed on your bill, call the company to obtain this information. These figures will be helpful in determining the amount of gas saved with the modifications.
  • If gas is detected at any time in completing home renovations, immediately leave the area and call for professional assistance. Ask contractors for licenses and call the local Better Business Bureau before signing contracts for any renovations or home improvements.

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