FTC Offers Tips on How to Stay Warm This Winter Without Getting Burned
As old man winter bears down on much of the U.S., the FTC has revised and reissued its Consumer Alert, Weathering the High Cost of Heating Your Home. News reports indicate that heating bills are likely to be higher than last year due to weather trends and international events. Whether you heat your home with oil, natural gas, or electricity, the FTC has some tips to help you save money and stay warm this winter, including:
- Conduct an energy audit to help detect waste and gauge the efficiency of your current heating system; the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offers instructions at www.homeenergysaver.lbl.gov;
- Install a programmable thermostat that will automatically lower nighttime temperatures;
- Wrap your hot water heater in an insulating jacket;
- Prune shrubs that may block airflow to your heat pump;
- Ask your utility or oil company about a budget billing plan to protect against sudden or unexpected price increases;
- Contact your provider if you're living on a fixed income and have trouble paying rising utility bills. They may have assistance plans to help you make your payments. Some state and local governments offer similar services.
The FTC's new publication also cautions consumers against false advertisements for products that claim to "significantly reduce" heating costs. In particular, a recent FTC case alleged that the makers of a "liquid siding" product that purported to act like insulation and greatly reduce energy costs, couldn't back up their claims. Although painting or caulking cracks in homes may reduce air leaks and help save money, consumers should be wary of dramatic energy savings claims for coating products.
In order to determine whether a claim is fraudulent, read advertisements carefully, and avoid sales pitches from telemarketers and door-to-door contractors. Find out if a contractor is licensed and check them out by contacting customer references, the Better Business Bureau and your state's licensing agency. The FTC's Cooling-Off Rule allows consumers three business days to cancel any contract signed at a location other than the contractor's permanent place of business.
More home heating tips are available online: