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There are a number of factors that cause differences in energy bills, so comparing your bill to someone else's is like comparing apples to oranges. The ages of major appliances, especially refrigerators and air conditioners, can make a dramatic difference in your bill. In addition, if your house leaks air like a sieve while your neighbor's house was just weatherized and insulated, you will have much higher heating and cooling bills. Other factors that can result in significant differences in bills are the number and kinds of lighting fixtures, thermostat settings for heating and cooling, the number of loads of laundry, old refrigerators out in the garage, and hobbies which result in electricity use.
Yes, programmable thermostats can reduce the energy used for air conditioning or heating by 5 to 30%. Programmable thermostats, while not always digital, save money by turning the air conditioner to a higher setting (or heater to a lower setting) when no one is present in the house, or in the evenings when it is cooler. You can achieve the same savings without the programmable thermostat, but you would have to remember to change your thermostat every day when you leave the house, and turn it down every night when you go to bed. In addition, if you are using the thermostat to regulate your heater, you would wake to a cold house. The programmable thermostat does all of the remembering for you once it is set.
A sample of a heating schedule you might program into a thermostat is:
This way your house is always comfortable and you can save money on heating. You can make a similar schedule for air conditioning.
Whether you should insulate or replace your furnace first depends on the situation in your house. Factors that influence this decision are the age and efficiency of your furnace, and the amount of insulation currently present in the house.
In general it is more cost-effective to upgrade insulation than it is to upgrade your furnace. However, if your furnace is old, and you are planning on replacing it anyway, you might want to upgrade the furnace if you have to choose between the two options. The average lifetime for a furnace is between 15 and 20 years. The efficiency of furnaces has increased over the years, so the older a furnace is, the more likely that furnace is to be inefficient. The average efficiency of new furnaces has increased from 63% in 1972 to 83% in 1995. Older furnaces, and furnaces which are used a lot are more cost-effective to replace than newer or infrequently used furnaces. Also, if you insulate your house at the time of furnace replacement, you might be able to buy a smaller capacity furnace and save money on the price. The same holds true for A/C and other heating and cooling equipment.
Common mistakes people make include: