As warm breezes fade away and chilly temperatures set in, it’s easy to stress about heating costs. This fall, take the following steps to optimize your heating-oil consumption in your Columbia, Maryland, home.

Monitor Heating-Oil Consumption

To make sure you’re getting the most heating oil for your money, start by figuring out just how much your household uses. Most oil furnaces and boilers use a relatively consistent amount of oil, but your average daily consumption may vary depending on weather conditions and other events.

To do this, monitor the oil burner for an hour, timing how long it operates during that span of time. Monitor the burner for another hour later in the day, and average the total amount of time it operates over the course of an hour. Multiply the average by 24 to determine how many minutes the burner operates each day in total. Finally, multiply the result by the unit’s advertised gallons of oil per hour ratio to assess how many gallons of oil your home consumes in an average day.

Decrease Energy Usage

No matter how little energy you use, it’s almost always possible to decrease your energy consumption further. Start small by doing your own at-home energy assessment. Walk around your home and find cracks and holes that allow air to pass freely around doors and windows. If you find any sizeable air leaks in these areas, seal them with caulk or weatherstripping.

It’s also a good idea to reconsider your home’s insulation. Houses are typically constructed with an amount of insulation appropriate at the time. Like many components of construction, insulation requirements change from time to time. If your home is older, its insulation may be out of date and due for an upgrade. A good way to get a closer look is by inspecting attic areas for adequate insulation coverage, tightly sealed pipes and ductwork, and insulated openings around chimneys.

If you’re not sure where to start with an energy assessment, call in an expert and schedule an energy audit with a professional energy technician. These techs use heat-sensing equipment to develop a heat map of your home, which helps identify problem areas in the foundation and roof as well as around doors and windows. If your HVAC system relies on ductwork, the technician also performs a blower test to find leaks in the ductwork. After a professional energy audit, the technician suggests places for improvement, which can help you save money and energy.

Set the Thermostat Lower

Lowering energy consumption can be challenging with a manual thermostat, since it requires frequent adjustments and doesn’t automatically respond to environmental changes. If you haven’t already upgraded to a programmable or smart model, consider making the investment before winter temperatures set in.

With a programmable thermostat, you can ensure that the settings are always optimized for the lowest heating oil consumption possible. Take advantage of the device’s programming powers, and plug your family’s schedule into the thermostat.

In the winter months the U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting a thermostat to 68 degrees while everyone is home during the day, and then programming the thermostat to lower the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees while the family is out during the day or asleep at night. Don’t forget to program the thermostat to return to a comfortable 68 degrees about 30 minutes before you plan to wake up in the morning or return home in the evening.

In addition to convenient programmable settings, smart thermostats offer even more ways to optimize your oil consumption. Connect the thermostat to your home’s Wi-Fi network, and allow the device to adjust its programmed settings to accommodate the weather forecast. If your programmed schedule changes during the day, you can keep the thermostat low while you’re out late or turn it back up to a comfortable temperature when you head home early. Many smart thermostats also offer energy reports, so you can take a closer look at when you consume the most heating oil.

Upgrade the Furnace

Replacing your old furnace with a new model requires an upfront investment, but it’s one that can pay off in the end. There are a couple of great reasons to upgrade your oil furnace. Age is a major factor, so if the unit is more than a couple of decades old, this could be a good time to take the plunge. Determining a furnace’s exact age can be challenging if you aren’t the original owner, but researching the model number and locating the original manual are good starting points.

If the existing unit just can’t keep up with your home’s heating needs and constantly needs repairs, it’s probably best to stop fighting the furnace and replace it with a new one. A furnace that once heated your home consistently but now heats rooms unevenly or in frequently short cycles is also a sign of a unit that’s seen better days. Similarly, a furnace that starts to contribute to indoor-air-quality (IAQ) issues, like high humidity or poor air circulation, is ready for an upgrade

When shopping for a new oil furnace, be sure to look at units that have an Energy Star label. These meet governmental standards for energy efficiency, an important qualifier if you don’t want to break the bank with energy usage and fuel consumption. Oil furnaces that meet Energy Star standards are about 4 percent more efficient than basic models, which typically saves homeowners between $50 and $100 on heating costs each year.

Another important spec to watch for is the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). Manufacturers are required to calculate and display the AFUE for all new furnaces and boilers, so you’ll see this information featured prominently. AFUE is displayed as a percentage, so an AFUE of 99 percent indicates that only 1 percent of the fuel input is lost, while 99 percent is turned directly into heating fuel for the home. All furnace types have different minimum requirements, and an oil furnace must have a minimum AFUE of 83 percent.

Invest in a Service Plan

Since your oil furnace or boiler is such an important component of your home, keeping it running smoothly is essential. You can take the worry out of the equation by planning ahead and investing in a maintenance plan from Griffith Energy Services. The two available plans both feature a combination of regular tuneups and discounted service coverage. The Bronze service plan includes one annual checkup, along with a 15-percent discount on service-related parts and labor. Bronze plan members also receive priority service when dealing with furnace or boiler issues.

One step up is the Gold service plan, which includes all Bronze elements, along with full coverage for parts and labor. This plan essentially offers complete coverage, as it guarantees free replacements for most controls, fuel supply parts, burner parts, and more. Once a year, Gold members also receive a comprehensive maintenance call, which includes burner adjustment, electrode cleaning, oil-filter replacement, flue-pipe inspection, and an oil-pump test. By keeping your oil furnace or boiler in top shape, you’ll ensure that it’s in great condition for years to come.

Purchase Oil When the Price Is Right

One of the advantages of relying on heating oil is that a little research can go a long way. Pricing for heating oil can change from day-to-day, but it generally follows a traceable pattern. Keep an eye on predictions for near-term pricing as well as projections for the fall and winter seasons’ weather patterns. Harsher winters require more heating oil, while milder winters allow you to optimize your oil consumption to an even greater extent.

If you want to secure a great price on heating oil, you can purchase enough to fill your home’s oil storage tank, or you can purchase a smaller amount. Distributors like Griffith Energy Services generally offer discounts for delivering larger quantities of oil, so opting to purchase an entire tank’s worth can help you save money.

Need a hand managing your heating-oil consumption this fall? Griffith Energy Services, Inc. can help. Contact the Columbia-area heating specialists at 888-474-3391.

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