Using best practices and knowing what resources are available will help ensure you stay warm all winter.
Winter is just around the corner and the Department of Commerce is urging Minnesotans to prepare for the cold before it is here to stay.
Below are tips and resources to help ensure you are prepared for a cold Minnesota winter.
• Change your furnace filter regularly. At a minimum, filters should be changed every three months. That said, filters may need to be changed more often depending on usage. Check your filter monthly and, if it looks dirty, change it. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder, wasting energy.
• Tune up your heating equipment yearly. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve gas mileage, an annual tune-up of your heating system can improve efficiency and ensure things run smoothly over the long run. Consider scheduling a tune-up before peak heating season arrives. Check out ENERGY STAR’s “Maintenance Checklist” and “Ten Tips for Hiring a Heating and Cooling Contractor.”
• Install a programmable or smart thermostat. Modern smart and programmable thermostats are helpful for people who are regularly away from home during the week or for long periods of time. They help consumers save money and avoid wasting energy by allowing users to change the temperature of their home based on the time of day and whether they are at home or asleep.
• Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Ducts that move air to and from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Ensuring they are sealed and insulated properly can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20 percent or more.
• Consider installing ENERGY STAR-qualified equipment. If your heating system is old or not performing efficiently, consider having it evaluated by an HVAC contractor and consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR label. It’s better to plan ahead to replace an old furnace or boiler instead of waiting until late fall or mid-winter.
If you use propane to heat your home:
• Buy early. Fill your tanks early to avoid paying higher prices when demand peaks.
• Consider a budget plan to spread out payments. A law signed by former Governor Mark Dayton after a shortage in 2014 requires most propane distributors to offer customers a budget payment plan. Distributors must notify -budget-plan customers of price or fee changes that may affect their monthly payment amount by more than 20 percent.
• Know your rights. The 2014 law also established consumer protections, including transparent pricing. Distributors are required to inform customers of the current per-gallon price and additional charges, fees and discounts. There is also a prohibition on extra fees, such as adding any service, distribution, transportation, or other fees to the bills of customers who enter into a contract with the distributor.
• Energy Assistance Program: The Energy Assistance Program, funded by the federal government and administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, helps pay for home heating costs and furnace repairs for households earning less than 50 percent of the state’s median income. In 2018, more than 125,000 Minnesota households received assistance. To learn more about the program and its requirements visit the Commerce website at mn.gov/commerce.
• Weatherization Assistance: Minnesotans who qualify for energy assistance may also be eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program, a companion program that uses the same application as energy assistance. This program helps permanently reduce energy bills for low-income Minnesotans by providing free energy-saving upgrades to ensure their home systems are functioning adequately and efficiently.
• Guides: Learn more about efficient heating and cooling with ENERGY STAR’S “Guide to Energy Efficient Heating & Cooling” and the MN Department of Commerce’s “Home Energy Guide.”