Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Q: I have a baby on the way and am concerned about her room staying adequately warm. Even with our thermostat set to 70 degrees, her bedroom is often 60 degrees on cold days. I used an electric space heater when our first child was born and was shocked to see my electric bill skyrocket. What can I do to avoid breaking the bank while keeping the baby’s room warm?

A: It is exasperating to have a central heating system that doesn’t properly heat your home. In addition to babies, people with health challenges and the elderly are also supremely uncomfortable in cold conditions. Operating an electric space heater is a decent short-term solution but, as you noticed, also an expensive one. A better tactic is to improve your central heating system. Here are some often overlooked low-cost measures.

Central Heating Maintenance

A clogged air filter can wreak havoc on an HVAC system’s ability to adequately heat a home. Inspect the filter monthly and change it when dirty — at least every one to three months. If you have a heat pump, keep plants at least 12 inches from the outside compressor box.

Balancing Airflow

When a forced air heating system is running, air return vents pull a lot of air. For example, in a three-bedroom home with 12 air supply vents that blow an average rate of 100 cubic feet per minute, the home’s one air return vent will pull nearly 1,200 cubic feet per minute.

When air supply vents are blocked by furniture, drapes or even closed doors, the air return will still pull the same volume of air, but it will come from unsavory places like the frigid outside, attic or crawl space. This will make for cold drafts and an overburdened central heating system. Certain homes have air returns or pressure-balancing grilles in each bedroom. Homes that do not should keep interior doors open when possible.

Another factor is an unbalanced system. Some homes have excessive air delivered to bathrooms and closets. An HVAC repair technician can adjust the dampers at the air handler to scale back the air supplied to tiny rooms and shift it to other rooms. Closing the supply grilles yourself inside a room is not recommended.

Duct Sealing

Duct leakage typically accounts for 5% to 30% of heated air lost in a typical duct system. Having ductwork properly sealed with bucket mastic by an HVAC or home energy contractor is often the number one way to lower energy bills and increase comfort. Consider installing new ducts or duct insulation if ductwork is not insulated and located in a vented crawl space or attic.

Portable Electric Heater

In some ways, it seems easier to use an electric space heater for a few days while you get accustomed to dressing your baby in a chilly nursery. But the cost to run a 1,500-watt heater can be $2 to $4 per day, and you need to take extreme caution with any portable space heater since they can cause burns and fires. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that each year, 1,200 residential fires are associated with portable electric heaters, and the National Fire Protection Association found that they accounted for 43% of home heating fires. Check out these safety tips to make sure you stay safe.

Heating system improvements can be overwhelming, particularly with a baby on the way. But taking these steps can help ensure you and your family are comfortable throughout your home now and into the future.

This article was originally featured in Carolina Country magazine.