Published on 01/04/07

Toasty home need not be just a dream this winter

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Whether it’s finding help to pay the bills or winterizing a drafty house, Pamela Turner has tips on staying toasty when the weather turns cooler.

Turner, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension housing specialist, says there are better ways than relying on stoves, portable heaters or even charcoal grills to keep a home warm.

Methods that seem less expensive, such as warming a house using the oven or lighting a portable gas heater, aren’t necessarily going to save money. They may be neither the safest nor the most efficient way to heat your home.

“When you use a kerosene or gas heater, you’re introducing particulate matter into your home and running the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning,” Turner said of unvented portable heaters.

“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has never said, ‘Don’t ever use these heaters.’ But consumers are advised to leave a window open for ventilation when using an unvented heater,” she said. “You can use an electric heater, which is a safe but expensive source of heat.”

In some cases, “people bring grills inside and burn charcoal briquettes for heat,” she said. Burning charcoal in your home is never a good idea. It’s dangerous.

Instead of just focusing on added heat sources, consider ways to keep the cold air from coming inside. “See what you can do to reduce heat losses,” Turner said.

She offers some tips:

1. Winterize your home. “If you can see light around your window, you’re losing a lot of heat,” she said. “Caulking around windows and adding weather stripping to doors will help reduce heat losses. There are organizations in the community that can help homeowners and renters winterize their homes.”

2. Turn down your thermostat.

3. Invest in a window insulation kit. It helps reduce heat loss by a plastic storm window that’s installed over existing windows.

Sometimes improvements aren’t possible, or they aren’t enough. When the weather turns frightful, help is available.

“Heating costs should be lower this year,” Turner said, “However, for people living on a fixed income, many will have to make a choice between paying for medication and keeping the house warm.”

Several local and federal programs are specifically designed to help people with very low incomes pay their energy bills.

“Most of these programs begin providing assistance around the first of December,” Turner said. “Also, utility companies usually have energy assistance programs for people over 65.”

The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps those who have a household income of less than or equal to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

This means if you live alone, you can qualify if you make under $14,700 a year, Turner said. A couple or a single parent with a child can make up to $19,800 and qualify. For a household with four people, the maximum is $30,000.

For 2006, LIHEAP estimates it helped 180,000 households with heating and cooling in Georgia. Benefits ranged from $174 to $200 and averaged $197.

“To learn if you qualify for energy assistance, contact your local Salvation Army or Community Action Agency,” Turner said.

Applicants to these programs generally must provide a copy of their most recent utility bill, a payroll stub or other proof of household income and valid Social Security numbers for everyone living in their home.

For more information on energy assistance programs in Georgia, visit LIHEAP online at Or call them at 1-800-869-1150.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.