Rising inflation has put a strain on most everyone’s budget. With the cost of just about everything on the rise, including heating fuel, people are making changes to their budgets to make ends meet. While we are enjoying relief from the cost of heating fuel right now, keeping our homes warm in the months ahead could create financial challenges for many families.

Even though the calendar says summer, now is the time to plan ahead for the upcoming heating season. Whether you heat your home with oil, propane, or natural gas, experts expect fuel prices to remain high when the temperatures turn colder again. Here are a few ideas to help you get ready.

Adjust Your Budget

Start saving for heating season now. Figure out how much fuel you will need and the potential cost. Take a look at your energy usage month-by-month from the previous year. Determine how many gallons of fuel you used and multiply by the going rate to estimate how much money you will need to save to be ready. For example, the statewide average cost for heating oil is currently $5.42 per gallon. If you use 200 gallons of heating oil each month in the winter, that will be $1,084 per month to heat your home. Create a separate savings account just for heating costs and set up an automatic transfer from your checking account each time you get paid.

Reach out to your utility company to see what kind of payment programs they may have available to help even out payments throughout the year. Shop around for deals and discounts. Some oil companies offer discounts if you “bundle” their services.

You will want to take a look at the rest of your budget to see what expenses you may need to trim or tighten to free up some cash. Involve your partner and kids in the conversation to find ways to save as a family.

Think about getting a part-time job or starting up a side hustle to bring in extra money now to help cover those heating costs down the road.

Prepare Your Home Now

There are many small and relatively inexpensive modifications you can make that will have big impact on improving your homes energy usage and help save money.

Lower the Temperature on Your Water Heater -- Dropping the temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees can reduce standby heat loss and save up to 15 percent in annual water heating expense.

Install a Programmable Thermostat -- Turning down the thermostats in your home by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day from its normal setting can help you save as much as 10 percent a year. A programmable thermostat will automatically adjust the inside temperatures to your liking when you are actually home. And with today’s high-tech smart thermostats, you can control the heat from your smartphone and even integrate with other smart technology in your home.

Buy Curtains and Shades -- About 30 percent of heating loss in a home happens through the windows. Window coverings can help with this energy loss and lower heating bills. So, if you have drafty windows, investing in heavy curtains and shades can be a good way to help you keep the warm air in.

Maintain Your Furnace -- Check the condition of your furnace and make sure that it’s clean and well-maintained, so it functions efficiently. Have your furnace serviced at least once a year so it continues to perform well and won’t consume more fuel than is necessary.

Seal Drafts and Air Leaks – Check for drafts then seal any you find. Check your walls, windows, ceilings, doors, light fixtures, outlets, and switches for any escaping air. Replace old weather stripping and adjust thresholds around doors so they seal shut completely. Caulk exterior windows and fill cracks or openings around pipes or cables with foam insulation.

Beef Up Insulation – Check your attic, floors over crawl spaces and accessible basement rim joints for potential leaks and add an extra layer of insulation, if necessary. Insulate exposed pipes in unheated areas like basements for additional savings.

Install Ceiling Fans – Heat rises, but by installing ceiling fans and running them clockwise (opposite direction used for cooling) you can capture the warm air and push it back down into your living space.

Keep the Air Flowing – Change or clean air filters regularly. If you have hot water baseboard heat, be sure to vacuum the dust and dirt from the heating elements before winter to maximize efficiency.

Long-Term Energy Efficient Upgrades

If your budget allows, there are several improvements you can do to make your home more comfortable, add value and lower your energy costs over time. Before making any big purchases or decisions, consider hiring a local company like Efficiency Maine to evaluate your home for energy efficiency. If you do decide to take on some major improvements, there are federal tax credits and utility rebates available for many energy-efficient improvements which will help offset the costs.

Replace Old Water Heaters – If your water heater is more than 10 years old, leaks or works erratically, it's probably time for a replacement. More efficient models like a heat pump water heater or tankless water heater that provides hot water on demand can help cut your energy expenses.

Replace Aging Windows -- If your current windows are more than two decades old, consider replacing them with more efficient models. If you aren’t in need of a full window replacement, storm windows may be an easy, economical way to increase the efficiency of older, single-pane windows.

Upgrade Your Heating System – Today, there are many high-efficiency heating systems available including heat pumps, new oil and gas boilers and furnaces, pellet and wood stoves, biomass, and geothermal systems. Efficiency Maine is a good resource to help figure out which heating system will work best for you.

Reach Out for Help

At Town & Country, we’re here to help you navigate any of life’s financial challenges. We’ve got the resources and support to help you build a budget that works and products like personal loans to help you pay for those home improvements now. And if things are still tight when heating season rolls around, we’ve got a fuel assistance loan to help you get through the winter. Contact us at info@tcfcu.com or 800.649.3495 to schedule time to talk with one of our loan officers.

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