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The Northeast's recent cold blast blew in with higher heating fuel prices and a bitter reminder to keep the cold air out of your home, but not just because it'll freeze your wallet open.

Heating with fossil fuels contributes to pollution that causes health woes from asthma attacks to death, according to Harvard University. Insulate and otherwise weatherize your home to use less fuel and you'll save money and lives.

"... Emission reductions are associated with outcomes including 240 fewer deaths, 6,500 fewer asthma attacks, and 110,000 fewer restricted activity days per year ... The health benefits correspond to $1.3 billion per year in externalities averted, compared with $5.9 billion per year in economic savings," according to "The Public Health Benefits of Insulation Retrofits in Existing Housing in the United States" by Jonathan I. Levy, Yurika Nishioka and John D. Spengler, with Harvard University's School of Public Health, in Boston, MA.

The preliminary study early last year found that 63 percent of the nation's single-family homes -- about 46 million -- had only adequate or poor insulation and could use more.

"While there are substantial uncertainties in many components of our health benefits model, our analysis demonstrates an approach for integrating environmental and public health benefits into energy efficiency policy analysis," the study reports.

Modern energy codes, such as International Code Council's (ICC) International Energy Conservation Code, require new homes and buildings to have nearly twice as much insulation in attics and walls than they did in 1980 and existing homes brought to those standards help reduce costs and emissions right away.

"Adding more insulation to attics, basement walls, and floors over unheated spaces are ways consumers can reduce their natural gas and energy costs right away," said Ken Mentzer, president of North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).

Insulation also cuts down on cooling costs when the weather outside is as hot as it is cold and the materials reduce noise transmission from room to room. Some energy efficient home improvements also improve the value of your home and make you eligible for a more affordable or larger home mortgage.

"Insulation provides a quick energy savings and is an improvement consumers can easily do themselves, along with caulking, weather-stripping and shrink-wrapping windows," said Alecia Ward, Executive Director of Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA).

Payback for insulation is typically one to five years, and many utilities and states offer rebates and incentives to encourage businesses and consumers to insulate.

Visit SimplyInsulate.com to learn how to check your insulation, how to install more and what other energy saving weatherizing steps your home may need.

Other related resources include:

  • Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Checkup is the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) accredited energy rating inspection system.
  • Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) offers a list of certified HERS providers.
  • Home Energy Audits offered by local utility companies, home inspectors, energy contractors and operations like California Home Energy Efficiency Rating System acquaint you with routine maintenance and provide inspections to point out how to upgrade your home's energy efficiency.
  • DOE's Energy Star program offers a Home Energy Advisor, a Home Energy Yardstick and information about Energy Efficient Home Improvements.
  • DOE also offers a Home Energy Audit check list and additional related information.
  • Affiliated with the DOE, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory offers Home Energy Saver service.
  • The Alliance To Save Energy also offers a Home Energy Checkup.
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