HVAC questions...

Live in Indianapolis, @ 1,700 sq. ft. single story ranch style brick house built in the early 1950's with a crawl space and hot water/gas heat. Central A/C was retro-fitted in the early 80's, with all the vents insulated and the duct work (the insulated flexible tubes/hoses) running in the attic.
We paid $250-320 per month from December to March last year (yikes). However, in spite of the prices being 25-30% higher that year than the year previous, our bills were about the same.
Why? Answer: 1.) I replaced the skirt under our front door (the previous one was missing about 7 inches of it, so you could see light inside when sitting in our car outside and 2.) there was a 6ft.x 6ft. square area in our attic (just above our bed in fact) that had NO insulation. Tossed some (about 8 inches) of the fiberfill over it and it made a HUGE difference. As a result, our bills at least stayed flat compared to the year before.
Anyway, I was relating this to my neighbor, and he said he paid about $400 TOTAL last year for the same size house with same attachments/features. The differences? As follows:
1.) He insulated his crawl space by stapling insulation (R-13) just below the joists along the rim board of the house and going down to the ground of the crawl space and out about 2 ft. He stated that the cold comes down thru the earth and also across out about 18 inches.
2.) He plugged up and insulated over 4 of the 5 grate vents that went to the crawl space. The fifth he left open to let in some air flow. He indicated the vents were originally put in to be in code in the 1950's, but that those codes are now obsolete and that you only had to account for 15 cubic ft. of air flow per minute per person, which is accomplished by the following...
3.) He cut a 9"x14" hole in the floor near the center of the house and had it vented to just above the grade in the crawl space. Apparently this creates enough flow....also...the earth temp in the middle of the crawl space of 56 degrees heats the cold outside air before it can come up to the living area. He also indicated that he runs a bathroom fan 24/7 to assist in drawing the air flow.
4.) He "vented" his gas furnace (in the garage in both houses, his and mine). He basically cut a 4 inch round hole in his garage window, inserted a dryer vent fitting into it and then ran aluminum flexible tubing from the window down onto the floor. He stated that this gives the furnace all the oxygen it needs, while without this, with the garage being largely sealed, it doesn't get enough oxygen and the gas flame has some orange to it. He also said since the garage is on a slab, the earth's temp heats up that air (the garage has a radiator in it, though not a thermostat). Is this safe?
5.) He dialed down the temp of the water running through the system from 180 degrees to about 110 degrees. He said this causes his electric pump to run more continuously, but that it is designed for that and that it uses a minimum of electricity. He also said this makes for a more even keeled temp, in the system and all around in the living space. Safe?
6.) He also turned down his hot water heater from 140 degrees to 110.
Your thoughts on these are greatly appreciated if you are anything close to an expert or professional. I am considering implementing all of these. Should cost less than $250 total, including retrofitting my garage window for the vent and the insulation.
I also installed some magnetic vinyl over the two air intakes in the ceiling at either end of my house that are used for the a/c (when I lay on the couch underneath on of them in the winter, I can feel the cold air cascading down). I figure if the AC isn't being used, why let warm air up there to get cooled down and then fall into the living area? Also, should I use these over the outflow a/c vents in each room in addition to simply closing them?
Finally, the thing I have the most doubt over is the plugging up the crawl space vents, except one, then cutting the hole in the floor with a grating on top of it.
I want to implement all these, but need a little reassurance that I'm not putting my family at risk. He's on a "level pay" system with our Gas company of $70/month, and just got his "settle up at the end of the year" statement, which was accompanied by a check for $355 made out to him. Nice.
Thanks.
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We used to plug the crawl space holes with bales of straw in the winter, (on the farm) I always thought it had to do more with critters than heating the house. I cover the ventulator on my roof in the winter.
The manufacture of the heater would know more about the fresh air needs of a given unit. I know that ducting fresh air in for combustion is a good idea. How ever 4 inches seems pretty small for a furnance. I have more than 20 square inches just for a 30 gallon water heater.
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Neighbors lie sometimes to impress you...
The rest of my comments are in line.

haevy plastic (visqueen) on the dirt. That will trap moisture.

lay any plastic down. If he didn't lay plastic, he's working on a major mold problem. At the box stores, there are thermostatic vents for your crawl. Install them instead. That way, when it does warm up under the house, it will open the vents to cool down.

is a direct connection between the appliance and the outside. As I remember, it's 5 square inches per 1,000 BTU's if it's ducted like you say his is. Better bet would be to drop some money and get a sealed combustion unit.
BTW, furnaces heat air, boilers heat water.

and it has a boiler, it's a pretty safe bet that it was designed for the water temp to be at 180°. In extreme cold weather, 110° water won't keep the house warm. It's a good idea, but I'd go with something more like outdoor reset. ODR is like cruise control for the heating system. At 65° outside, the water temp may be at 95°. At design temp (15°?), water temp would be at 180°. The water temp varies with the outdoor temp.

a little lower). Besides, dishwashers need about 130° water to clean the dishes correctly. In my area, it's cheaper to heat water with gas than 110v household current.

payback should be better.

the payments. That would mean $30 less per month. Read my first line....
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8" of fiberfill is apx R 28 probably under your code minimum and well below optimum. Do some research , Dow, Owens Corning, "Energy Star" give insulation ratings, you are zone 6? Probably R 50 is optimal.
Sure insulate the crawlspace floor joists as well as possible, R 13 is not enough , cutting a hole makes no sence to me as mold is also down there. as well as cold air. Running a bath fan is only necessary if humidity is excessive and house extremely tight. In winter keeping all vents closed is logical, Covering the dirt floor with plastic will keep out moisture
Turn your water heater down till you only have a hot water only shower. Mine is at 92
A boiler pump takes apx 150 watts and costs apx 15$ a month to run 24x7 I would up the temp as electricity is still more than Ng. 110 f wont keep you warm when its cold out
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BuddyBiancalana writes:

7.) He's pulling your leg.
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On Sun, 13 Nov 2005 22:46:08 -0600, Richard J Kinch

And laughing his ass off while he tells his wife all the things he told you (the op) he did to get his bill down, knowing you will try them. No offense, but are you considered the neighborhood dummy?
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If he had a high efficiency funace, tankless water heater, new tri pane windows, and dounle code insulation 400 yr is possible, Im zone 5 and went from 1800 yr to 465 for 1800 sq, but it means sacrificing comfort- a game to keep bills down. Ask to see his bills
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I don't think this last bit actually saves all that much, and my understanding is that temperatures between 40f and 140f should be avoided as not being sufficiently hostile to disease-causing organisms.
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Follow this link on crawlspaces. Your neighbor sounds dangerous. A little bit of knowledge.....
Crawlspace problems http://www.contractingbusiness.com/Classes/ArticleDraw/ArticleDraw.aspx?CIDr53&HBC=GlobalSearch&OAS=&NIL úlse
Stretch
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