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Families are trying to compensate for high heating costs

Thursday, November 18, 2004

SIKESTON -- With home-heating bills expected to increase 10 to 15 percent compared to last year, many residents will resort to other methods to keep warm and offset their costs this winter.

Lester Wright, business manager for Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities, said the company has already seen some conversions by its customers from gas to electric heating. "It does look like over the last several weeks more people have switched, and I think we'll see a few more as it gets colder," Wright said Wednesday.

Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri safety specialist, said in a recent news release some families will use space heaters to heat their homes and possibly decrease their costs this winter.

Funkenbusch pointed out supplemental heating equipment such as electrical and kerosene heaters is the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February, trailing only cooking equipment as the leading cause of home fires year-round.

"Consumers need to know that space heaters need space and they should be placed at least 3 feet from anything that can burn," Funkenbusch said.

Funkenbusch offered other basic safety tips for families to stay warm and on the use of space heaters. She suggested not using them to warm bedding, cook food, thaw pipes or dry clothing and to turn off space heaters when not in the room or when going to sleep.

Another tip is to supervise the children and pets at all times when space heaters are in use; even the slightest contact with a heating coil or element can cause a severe burn, Funkenbusch said.

Avoid using extension cords with space heaters, and if one must be used, make sure the extension cord is the right wire gauge size and type for the heater, Funkenbusch said. If using a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use gasoline or other substitute fuels. Provide adequate ventilation according to the manufacturers instructions. When refueling, turn off the heater and let it cool completely before adding fuel.

Finally, select heating equipment that has the UL Mark-Underwriters Laboratories Inc. mark, which means that the UL technical staff members have tested representatives samples of the product for foreseeable safety hazards, Funkenbusch said.

Although Miner Fire Chief Benny Thurston advised not using space heaters, he said if someone is going to use them, keep them away from anything ignitable and make sure all the wiring is in good shape with no frayed endings.

"Use the normal heating units and fireplaces and things like that (instead of a space heater). That's the only suitable thing," Thurston recommended.

But Steve Cobb of the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation in Portageville noted there are several things a person can do to save money this winter -- and it doesn't involve space heaters. For example, a person can save 10 percent or more on their energy bill by reducing the air leaks in their home.

Cobb works with DAEOC's Weatherization Program, which installs needed energy-saving materials to clients' homes in order to save energy and reduce fuel costs.

To "weatherize," residents must first find leaks by testing their home for air leaks, on a windy day, hold a lit incense stick next to the common sources of air flow, i.e., windows, doors, recessed lighting, duct work, chimney, fireplaces, etc., Cobb recommended, adding for a more accurate measurement of air leakage, hire a technician to conduct a blower door test in the home.

"You can lose up to 60 percent of your heated air before it reaches the register if your ducts aren't insulated and they travel through unheated spaces such as the attic or crawlspace. Get a qualified professional to help you insulate and repair ducts," Cobb offered.

Cobb suggested the following tips for weatherizing a home:

-- Residents should install storm windows over single-pane windows or replace them with double-pane windows with Low-E coating, which keeps heat inside the home (look for the Energy Star logo).

-- Insulate the water heater and hot water pipes. Check the insulation in the attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors and crawlspaces to see if it meets the levels recommended in the area.

-- By lowering their thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day, a person can save up to 10 percent on their heating bill.