When inspecting a new or potential new home, make sure that any of the gas equipment needing ventilation—heaters, dryers, hot water heaters—is ventilated properly to the outside.
Have your heating system cleaned and tuned by a qualified contractor. A pre-season tune-up and filter change is a good investment. It reduces the chances of breakdowns in the middle of winter, improves safety, and pays for itself through more energy efficient operation.
It is as important to understand the space you're heating as it is to know the unit you are heating with. Examine your home and rooms. Remember that south-facing rooms may overheat during the day and call for extra heat in the evening. Bedrooms may be closed off or out of use during the day, but create high demand at night. While zoning will answer many of these issues, two-stage or multi-stage furnaces are the ideal solution since they can deliver high, medium or low levels of heat depending on demand, without creating excess. When designing heat zones or controlling heat through registers, excess heat must always be taken into consideration. If it is not dumped into an excess heat zone, such as a spare room, workshop, basement or garage, the heat can back up into the furnace, causing damage.
If you have a radiator in your home, be sure to "bleed out" trapped air in the system at least one to two times each year. Air trapped in the radiator blocks the flow of water and makes the system run inefficiently.
Insulate your hot-water storage tank and pipes, but be careful not to cover the water heater's floor, top, thermostat, or burner compartment; when in doubt, get professional help.
Buy a new water heater with a thick, insulating shell; while it may cost more initially than one without insulation, the energy savings will continue during the lifetime of the appliance.
Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it's best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Doing some research before your heater fails will enable you to select one that most appropriately meets your needs.
Lower the thermostat on your new water heater; water heaters sometimes come from the factory with high temperature settings, but a setting of 115°F provides comfortable hot water for most uses.
Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater. The type of water tank you have determines the steps to take, so follow the manufacturer's advice.
If you heat with electricity and live in a warm and sunny climate, consider installing a solar water heater. The solar units are environmentally friendly and can now be installed on your roof to blend with the architecture of your house.