Save money by understanding your heating system

Simple maintenance on your heating and cooling systems can save energy and money.

Winter brings on higher heating and electric bills. By reviewing how and where energy is used, individuals and businesses can reduce energy use and money. Based on national averages, heating and cooling uses more energy – approximately 54 percent - than any other energy use in the home.

The heating/cooling system is made up of three parts: the furnace and air conditioner; the duct work that transport the hot or cold air; and the thermostat.

Furnace/Air conditioner

If your furnace or air conditioner is more than 15 years old, it is probably not very energy-efficient. Maintenance is the key to energy savings and longevity of the system. An annual inspection can ward off any small problems before they become big ones, and can help determine when the time comes to replace your system with a more energy-efficient model.

It may seem like a big investment, but most new efficient models can pay for themselves in utility-cost savings in as little as a few years; it is also a good idea to check with your utility companies to see if there are rebates or energy credits available for installing new energy efficient models.

In addition to annual check-up by a qualified technician, forced air systems have an air filter that is designed to remove dust and debris and keep it from reaching the blower and heat-exchange coils. Dirt on the coils reduces efficiency. Changing your air filter as recommended on the air filter package will increase efficiency, prolong the life of the system and save money. If you are doing any remodeling where dust or debris is created, change the filter at the start of the project and at the end to protect your furnace.

Furnace Ductwork

The ducts are the square, metal channels that distribute the hot or cool air from the furnace or air conditioner to each room in the house. If there are leaks in the ductwork, it will waste energy. Ductwork in areas that are not heated or cooled, such as attics or basements, can also result in energy loss. These ducts should be insulated to keep the hot/cold air from escaping into these spaces and not getting to the area where you do want it.

The ductwork is attached to both the “heat register” where the hot and cold air is delivered into the room and a “cold air return”. These two vents allow for a circular air flow by sending hot/cool air from the furnace to the room and then returning air back to the furnace to be heated or cooled and returned. Make sure that registers and cold air returns are not covered by furniture or other items to ensure this continuous flow.


There are two basic ways that a thermostat can save energy costs. It can be turned down during the heating season or up during air conditioning season so that the furnace and air conditioner run less often. The second way to save energy cost is by installing a programmable thermostat. Savings up to 3 percent can be realized for every degree you lower/increase the thermostat for an eight hour period. Most programmable thermostats have multiple setting options so weekday and weekend days can be set separately, making it easy on the homeowner. The need to remember to turn it down before leaving or going to bed is eliminated and can be manually adjusted for different situations. Programmable thermostats usually pay for themselves in one to two years.


The Michigan State University Extension Energy Sheets are available for fifty cents each at the MSU Extension Bookstore by searching “energy.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has more information on residential energy use. Visit their site for information on residential energy use and comparison of Michigan to other Great Lakes states and national averages.

For more information on specific actions to take to reduce your heating and cooling costs, see the MSU Extension article titled “Energy Use and the Environment.” 

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