Our natural gas bills have always been outrageous in this house, sometimes over $300 a month during the winter. And it isn't because I keep the place nice and toasty--daytime is usually 67 degrees F, going down to 63 degrees at night. With prices higher than ever in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this year I am getting serious about reducing our heating costs. Maybe it's time to finally put curtains over all those windows (my excuse: we just moved in... about 6-1/2 years ago), or at least cover them with plastic for the winter. I tried the plastic thing two years ago but only did one window (on the bright side, that window is still covered, though it looks a little worse for wear).
Our gas water heater is 11 years old and I'd like to replace it, maybe with a tankless unit. Considering that our current model uses only five therms less than the most wasteful model on the market in 1994 (an estimated 276 therms annually), I'm sure we'll be better off no matter what we buy. The previous owner made a lot of bad decisions with this house--if he wasn't dead, I'd probably go smack him upside the head at least once a month. Tankless systems are more expensive, but they last longer and use less gas, especially if we get one with an intermittent ignition device (like the spark ignition on our stove) instead of a constant pilot light
Most of our gas is used by the radiator heating system (hot water as opposed to steam). While perusing a government web site about conserving energy, I found this suggestion: "Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and radiators." That makes a lot of sense, but of all the radiator-heated buildings I've been inside, I have never seen this. Even my in-laws, who are notoriously chea--I mean thrifty--don't do this. Intrigued, I googled "radiator reflector." Tossing out the obvious mismatches (i.e. car radiator stuff), I found some U.S. sites that reprint the government's suggestions verbatim but very few that elaborate on them. I found many more U.K. web sites, so I would guess this is more popular across the big pond.
Some sites tell how to make your own, and it's as easy as you might guess: tape aluminum foil over a piece of cardboard. The way I turn any home improvement project into a disaster, however, I'm afraid that my homemade reflectors would look cheesier than a 1950s science fiction movie. Although a few U.S. sites claim that hardware stores sell them, our local store right here in the heart of radiator-heated Chicago does not. Twelve pages into my Google results, I only found sources in the U.K. except for one in Canada. If I lived in Ontario, I could even get a rebate for installing radiator reflectors. With a stab in the dark, I googled "radiator reflector Illinois" and came up with a supplier in New Jersey. I don't get it. If these things are as great as everyone says they are, they should be selling them on every freaking street corner in Chicago.
P.S. While researching energy, I found Mr. Electricity, aka Michael Bluejay. Not only does this guy offer advice for saving electricity, but he's a safe cycling advocate, too.