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Dear Jim: I set the furnace thermostat down at night, but the bedroom feels cold. Will using an electric blanket save energy overall? What are the most efficient ones and are there other tips for staying comfortable? - Sandi M.
A: Setting back the furnace thermostat at night can cut your utility bills by one to two percent for each degree you lower the temperature. If done properly at a lower temperature, your bedroom can be comfortable for sleeping and less drying to your nasal passages.
First, install a programmable clock thermostat. Program it so it does not lower the temperature until just after you are in bed and then raises it just before you awake in the morning. If you manually set a standard thermostat lower, the room will be very cold when you awake in the morning.
Using an electric blanket or mattress pad is an energy-saving method to stay comfortable all night long. I used an electric blanket for years, but recent switched to a dual control (one for each side) electric mattress pad. I prefer the warmth from below and less weight on top of me.
My queen-size mattress pad uses only 220 watts and it cycles on and off to maintain a steady temperature. The average electricity usage is less than 100 watts, about as much as a standard light bulb uses. When you compare this to cutting your heating bills by up to 10 percent, the savings are great.
The key differences among various brands and models of electric blankets and mattress pads are the controls and the heating wires. The best, but more expensive models, such as Sunbeam SlumberRest, use digital ambient controls. This circuitry senses as the room cools over night and automatically increases the heat output to compensate for steady comfort.
Better controls also provide silent operation. Cheaper electric controls make a quiet click when the thermostat switches them on and off throughout the night. If you cannot fall asleep easily, the clicking can become annoying.
Select a blanket or mattress pad with PTC (positive thermal coefficient) heating wire. Its resistance changes with temperature. Where the blanket or pad is resting tightly over or under your body, and therefore warmer, its heating output decreases. This maintains a more constant sleeping temperature.
Other tips are to increase the thermal mass in the bedroom with ceramic planters or other masonry items. These will slow the temperature drop in the bedroom so you will not notice it even if it takes a while to fall asleep.
If you have ceiling fan or other penetrations in the bedroom ceiling, seal them to minimize the loss of heated room air. Install an electric radiant heating panel on the wall or ceiling. These panels produce sensible heat quickly in the morning if you feel chilly when you first get up.
The following companies offer electric blankets/mattress pads: Perfect Fit, (800) 299-1378, www.perfectfitindustries.com, Sunbeam, (800) 892-7684, www.sunbeam.com; and West Point Home, (800) 533-8229, www.martex.com.
Dear Jim: We have a mail slot through our front door. It appears to fit and seal well, but we still feel a draft through it sometimes. What can we do to make it more airtight and efficient? - Pam E.
A: Mail slots are very inefficient no matter what you do. Unless your mobility is limited, it would be much better to seal up the mail slot and hang a standard mailbox outside your front door.
If you do need a mail slot, STR Products (www.magneticmailslot.com) makes a magnetic indoor cover which seals well. The magnetic flap is flexible, so mail can be pushed through easily. On wood doors, an adhesive-backed magnetic sheet is first placed on the door.