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How to Save on Heating Costs in an Apartment

Is your apartment uncomfortably cold in the winter? Here's how to warm it up without increasing your energy bill.

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Turn Down the Heat and Still Be ComfortableFamily Handyman

Turn Down the Heat and Still Be Comfortable

We all know the mantra by now - turn down the thermostat during the winter months and you'll save money. And it's true. According to the Department of Energy, for every degree you lower the thermostat, you'll save 1 percent on your energy bill. But turning down the heat has a big drawback - you have to wear extra clothes to stay warm. The solution? Use a space heater to stay comfortable in the room where family members gather, like the living room. Fireplaces and fireplace inserts can provide space heating, but electric heaters are the easiest way to warm up a room. Curious about how to install a gas fireplace? Here's a complete guide.

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Save Money with an Electric HeaterFamily Handyman

Save Money with an Electric Heater

Baseboard, fan-forced air and oil-filled electric heaters all have roughly the same energy efficiency, although oil-filled units are the quietest (but are also larger and heavier). You'll have to turn down the heat enough (usually 5 degrees F or more) to offset the cost of the electricity used by the space heater and still pocket a savings. Space heaters range in price from $30 to more than $100, depending on benefits like remote control, a programmable thermostat and safety features. You can buy them at home centers, discount stores and online. For more money-savings tips and tricks, check out these collections.
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Where Space Heaters Work BestFamily Handyman

Where Space Heaters Work Best

Remember, space heaters cut heating bills only if you turn down the temperature in the entire house. The heaters work best in walled-in rooms (rather than in open spaces), where the heat can be contained. If those walls are looking a bit shabby, here's our complete step-by-step guide for how to paint them fast and with a professional-looking finish.

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Sizing Your HeaterFamily Handyman

Sizing Your Heater

In most cases, you can roughly size the electric heater (in watts, that is, a measure of heat output) according to the size of the room. Our 'rule of thumb' is a room less than 100 sq. ft. needs 1,000 watts, a room 100 to 150 sq. ft. needs 1,500 watts, and a room 150 to 250 sq. ft. needs 2,500 watts. This assumes that you only need to raise the room temperature 5 to 10 degrees F for comfort. And we've oversized the heaters a bit to handle extra-cold periods.

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Get a Towel WarmerFamily Handyman

Get a Towel Warmer

A towel warmer ($50 and up) can act like a small space heater for your bathroom and provide you with a toasty towel after bathing. There are freestanding units and units that mount to the wall and are plugged in or hardwired. Towel warmers are available at comfortchannel.com and other online retailers. Towel warmers don't save energy, but they can keep you warm in the bathroom when the house thermostat is turned down. And if the towel bar in your bathroom is busted, here's how to replace it.

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Install Quilted Curtains to Block DraftsFamily Handyman

Install Quilted Curtains to Block Drafts

If you're turning up the heat in the house to compensate for drafty windows, consider quilted curtains, which can increase your comfort and let you keep the temp down. The curtains are available in various colors, patterns and sizes. Enter 'quilted curtain' in a search engine to find retailers. Online sources include plowhearth.com and amazon.com. Prices start at under $100, and a curtain can be installed in less than 10 minutes on your existing curtain rod. Learn more here about how "winter curtains" can keep you warm.
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Use Foam Sealant on GapsFamily Handyman

Use Foam Sealant on Gaps

To seal gaps, inject foam sealant. Some sealants will push jambs inward as they expand, so be sure to use one that's intended for windows and doors (check the label). Shown is DAP Tex Plus because it's easy to clean up with a damp rag. Most expanding foams are nearly impossible to clean up before they harden. Let the foam harden and trim off any excess foam with a knife. Expanding foam insulation can be tricky to work with. Check out these 17 tips before you use it for the first time.

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How to Stop Under-the-Door Air LeaksFamily Handyman

How to Stop Under-the-Door Air Leaks

If you can feel the breeze and see daylight under your entry door, it's costing you big-time. It also means you need to adjust your door threshold or install a new door sweep. Door sweeps start at $10. The hardest part about replacing them is usually taking off the door.Start by adjusting the threshold. Newer versions have screws that raise and lower them. Turn all of the threshold screws until the door opens and closes without much drag and any draft is eliminated. If that doesn't work, or your threshold doesn't have adjustment screws, replace the door sweep.Close the door and pop out the hinge pins with a pin punch to remove the door. Set the door on a work surface and remove the old door sweep. Caulk the ends of the door, then install the replacement sweep. Some sweeps are tapped into place and stapled along the door bottom; others are screwed to the side along the door bottom. If a drafty sliding patio door is your problem, here's how to fix it.
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Seal a Drafty Window

Seal a Drafty Window

Weather stripping often becomes loose, worn or distorted when the sash drags or when the strip gets sticky and attaches itself to the frame, then pulls loose when the sash is opened. Windows have weather strip on the sash, frame or both. Regardless of its location, the steps for removing and replacing it are the same. Weather stripping is available from your window manufacturer or online. The window brand and glass manufacturer date are etched in the corner of the glass or in the aluminum spacer between the glass panes. You'll also need the height and width of your sash (take these measurements yourself).

If the weather strip is in good shape and loose in only a few places, like the corners, apply a dab of polyurethane sealant to the groove and press the weather strip into place. Otherwise, replace the entire weather strip. First remove the sash and set it on a work surface so you can access all four sides. If the weather strip is one continuous piece, cut it apart at the corners with a utility knife.

Starting at a corner, pull the weather strip loose from the sash. If the spline tears off and remains stuck in the groove, make a hook from stiff wire to dig it out.

Work the new weather strip into the groove, starting at a corner. You'll hear it click as the strip slides into the groove.

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Heat Some RocksFamily Handyman

Heat Some Rocks

Take clean, smooth rocks and warm them up in a pan of water on the stove or in the oven. The rocks don't have to get hot, just warm. Using oven mitts, place the heated rocks in a cloth bag or a sock and hold it in your hand, place it near your feet in bed, or simply keep it near you for a gentle warm up.
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Never Plug Heater Into an Extension CordFamily Handyman

Never Plug Heater Into an Extension Cord

One thing you must never do with an electric heater is plug it in to an extension cord. Place the heater near an outlet and always plug in directly to the outlet without any adapters or extension cords.

Need a place to store the extension cords you're not using with your electric heater? Here's a nifty rack you can make to keep them tidy.

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Reverse Your Ceiling FanFamily Handyman

Reverse Your Ceiling Fan

In the winter, reverse the motor by flipping the toggle switch on the motor houseing. Operating the ceiling fan at low speed in the clockwise direction produces a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.

If your ceiling fan is wobbly, here's how to fix it.

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Space Heater SafetyFamily Handyman

Space Heater Safety

If you use an electric space heater, always follow these safety tips:

  • Keep space heaters at least 3 ft. away from drapes, bedding and other flammables.
  • Plug space heaters directly into outlets, not into extension cords.
  • Don't use space heaters while sleeping.

Tip: Establish a designated space heater zone in rooms where space heaters are used. The zone should be clear of blowing drapes and at least 5 ft. away from other combustibles. For more informaion about preventing home fires, check out this collection.

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Seal Gaps at Doors and WindowsFamily Handyman

Seal Gaps at Doors and Windows

Seal doors, windows and basement sashes with adhesive-backed weatherstripping. Clean the surface first so the weatherstrip will adhere well.