Common Heating Myths That Can Raise Energy Bills

Advice about saving money on home heating costs abounds this time of year, but some of it is oversimplified, marketing hype or just plain wrong, while some long-standing myths persist.

For example, programmable thermostats are not the holy grail of home heating, cranking up the furnace does nothing to heat a chilly house faster, and fireplaces used as heating sources suck paid-for warm air up the chimney.

Duct tape? Not good for sealing ducts.

To truth-test heating advice, we sought help from Max Sherman, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory overseeing research for residential energy efficiency. Besides being a serious scientist, he gained notoriety in the late 1990s as Dr. Duct Tape for discovering that the gray-backed sticky tape “failed reliably and often catastrophically” when used for sealing ducts. “It will get old and fall off after a year or so of heating cycles,” Sherman said. “Plenty of tapes are good for sealing, but standard duct tape isn’t one of them.”

Here are a few other home-heating myths.

Fireplace fallacy

If you enjoy the sound, smell and ambience of a wood fireplace, go for it. Just don’t think you’re helping your wallet.

“A fireplace is a particularly bad way of heating your home,” Sherman said.

First, there’s paying for firewood. Then you feed the fire’s appetite for oxygen with your paid-for heated indoor air, which it shoots up the chimney.

A possible exception is if you want to turn down the heat in the rest of the house and close off and heat only one room — the one that includes the fireplace. Or, as Sherman notes, it might be a net benefit if the fireplace has sealed glass doors and “you’ve gone through the trouble of essentially turning it into a sealed wood stove … then you no longer have the nice, cheery fire you probably had in mind when you said, ‘Let’s use the fireplace.’ ”

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