Twelve Tactics to Prepare For and Minimize Winter Heating Bills (Besides Woodstoves)

Liz writes in with an interesting question:

wonder if you have weighed the pros and cons of switching to pellet/wood stoves for heat this winter? I live in Montana and our heating bills are slated to rise 50%, yes 50% this winter, partially due to the sale of Montana Power to Northwest Energy. Our heating bills (gas for heat and cooking and electric for the usual) get as high as $600 a month in the winter.

Liz, unless you have a very cheap source for a high volume of wood, installing wood heating options won’t save you any money for a very long time. In order to install an indoor wood stove, a fireplace, or an outdoor wood boiler, you have to have a chimney and a blower, which can cost thousands to install. Even if you already have the equipment, without a supply of very inexpensive wood, you won’t do too well.

How much does it cost, exactly? The calculation of how much wood you need is pretty simple. For many homes, the amount of wood you’ll need to replace your other heating is somewhere between three and six cords. A cord of wood costs roughly $150-200 just for the wood, and weighs about 5,600 pounds (2,500 kilograms). You can usually tack on another $50 or so per cord for delivery cost, so the cost of getting that much wood delivered would be about $250 a cord. Thus, your wood cost alone (if you don’t have your own source) is about $1,000 for the winter. That doesn’t include the effort of hauling in wood and so on.

So, unless you have a very cheap source of wood (your own chainsaw and a small forest out back) and are already set up for it, a wood stove is not a good solution for heating.

Incidentally, my father uses a wood stove to heat his garage and goes through probably 50% of a cord each winter. He has a lot of trees nearby and cuts the wood himself for his own use. This makes sense for him because the effort to cut the wood for the stove is not immense, plus he is already set up for it.

Given that, what actions can Liz take? Here are twelve things I’d do in her shoes.

Air seal your home. One sure way to have inflated heating bills is to continually lose heat to the cold outdoors. You can easily reduce this loss of heat by carefully air sealing your home. The Department of Energy’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a wonderfully useful guide to air sealing an existing home, including walkthroughs on how to detect air leaks and how to caulk and weatherstrip any leaks you do detect. Doing this can save as much as 30% on your heating bill.

Make sure the attic is well-insulated. Since heat rises, it’s not surprising that quite a bit of heat is lost through the roof of your home, hence the need for significant insulation in your attic. Take a peek up there and make sure there’s plenty of insulation to go around. Also, if you can, check the insulation in other ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces. Here’s an excellent EERE guide on home insulation.

Dress warmly inside and keep the temperature low. Why keep the house at a high temperature when you can just toss on an extra sweatshirt instead? Lower your home’s temperature a bit and cuddle up with a blanket – you’ll be toasty warm and you aren’t burning money to keep other parts of your home warm.

Room Thermostat by www.butkaj.com on Flickr!Get a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat can automatically lower the temperature of your home at night and when you’re at work, making the heat run less when you’re not actively using it. Such a device can pay for itself in a season, making it well worth the investment.

Minimize or eliminate use of vent fans. If you have a vent fan in your kitchen to eliminate cooking smoke, or you have one in your bathroom to get rid of moist air, try as hard as you can not to use them. Use a fan to ventilate the air out of the room into other areas of the house instead. A vent fan will carry that warm air straight outdoors, guaranteeing extensive heat loss.

Turn off the heat in unused rooms. Close the heating vent in the guest bedroom or any other room in the house that you don’t use very much. This works well if you have well-insulated interior walls – if you don’t, this won’t help much at all, but you may get a slight boost from it.

Use space heaters. If you spend most of your time in only one room or two in the house, drop the thermostat even lower and put a space heater in that room where you spend your time. It’s much cheaper just to have a space heater heat up part of a room than to have a furnace heat your whole house.

Make sure you have a fresh furnace filter. Furnace filters are vital at keeping dust out of the passageways in your home, making the furnace work less to keep your home warm (and keeping dust out of the air, too). Along those same lines, ensure that nothing is obstructing your furnace and also get an occasional tune-up to make sure it’s in good working order – once every few years should do it. Here’s some solid information about basic furnace maintenance.

Use an insulation blanket on your hot water heater. Most modern hot water heaters are already well insulated, but many old heaters lose a ton of heat in a very inefficient manner, causing you to waste money heating your utility closet. If you have an older hot water heater, consider getting an insulation blanket for it in order to help it keep the heat inside, keeping your water warm and not losing heat to the environment of your utility closet.

Keep blinds and curtains open on the sunny side of the house and closed on the other side. If sunlight is coming in a window, you should pull back the curtains and let the sunshine in. Otherwise, keep the curtains drawn, as without direct sunlight you’ll lose heat to the outside even through a well-insulated window. Let the sun be your guide here – if the sunlight’s coming in, open up the curtains.

Cook at home using the oven. Since it’s cheaper to cook warm meals at home than it is to go out, you should also take advantage of the fact that cooking in your kitchen adds heat to your home. Instead of going out to eat, fire up the oven and make a delicious meal at home. It might burn a bit more energy than you otherwise would consume, but not much more (since your home needs heat anyway), and the inexpensiveness of eating at home versus eating out makes a huge difference in your overall budget.

Microwave a hot water bottle before bed each night, then dip the temperature. This is a trick I learned from my father, who grew up with a wood stove in his kitchen and no heating in the bedroom. He and his siblings would put a bottle of water on the stove at night, get it very warm (almost boiling), then wrap it gently in a sheet and put it in bed with them, making their cold bed instantly warm. This same technique still works – lower the house temperature about an hour before you go to bed, then get some water boiling in the microwave just before you go (in a tea kettle, for example). Put that boiling water in some sort of sturdy container, wrap it in a pillowcase or two until it’s just nice and warm and not hot, then put it under the covers with you. Instant warm bed!

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73 thoughts on “Twelve Tactics to Prepare For and Minimize Winter Heating Bills (Besides Woodstoves)

  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the tip on sealing existing homes, looks like I have another item to add to the “honeydew” list.

  2. Dennis Robert is in Phoenix says:

    I can’t wait for winter, it means I can turn off the a/c!

  3. We are just coming into summer here in Australia so I don’t need to prepare for winter yet. But all these tips are great. I also wrote a similar post on my blog about this earlier.
    You have to be careful though, because sometimes you have so spend money to make money, and the amount you spend you don’t make back

  4. Dave says:

    Does anyone have experience with infrared heaters such as edenpure or comfort zone? Several people I know have just purchased this type of heaters to supplement their oil furnace. Their web sites are interesting but I would like to hear from someone who has used them. With the price of home heating oil it seams that one could really save some money.

  5. Sandra says:

    I know this may sound drastic to some but—get a programmable thermostat and set it 57 degrees all winter long. Yes–57 degrees. I came up with this number simply because this a comfortable temperature in the Fall & Spring–why not the winter? Trent is right on the money about cooking at home on the stove/oven to heat up an area-always let your dishwasher cycle end early for letting it air dry, all that warm moist air throuhtout your kitchen–We are also firm believers in thermal/fleece North Face products which are pretty cheap right now. Look at backcountry.com or the sports basement. Dig up coupns for both on retailmenot.com

    I view heating & cooling bills as money straight out the door for a few moments of comfort. It is really what you get your body used to.

    By the way, I live 10 miles from Lake Erie in the snow zone of the lake. It is nothing to wake up to 15 inches of snow—many,many times last year–up to 24 inches of white stuff in one wallop.

  6. Dave says:

    Ah, being just north of you, Trent, I’ll have to start getting ready for the winter as well. We have electric heaters in each room instead of one central furnace, so we just flip breakers where necessary to keep that heat off.

    We keep our thermostats set on the lowest setting possible (it’s not programmable, just a turn-dial one) and it keeps the place cool but certainly not unbearable by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t get too warm in our place, nor too cold, and our heating costs aren’t too much more than the cost of running fans during the summer months.

    Thankfully(?) my new PC will provide some extra heat as well, so I’ll just flip the breaker for my rooms heat off this winter and I should probably be fine. :)

  7. John says:

    Personal note: my wife and I used one of those taller, oscillating space heaters in the nursery while keeping the rest of the house cool. (Heat Pump).

    Doing so upped our electric bill by almost $60. Beware.

  8. Kim says:

    Trent

    It sounds like your response is specific to woodburning stoves, but not necessarily pellet stoves, which I understand are a somewhat novel development that burn wood scraps compressed into pellets, that are very, very cheap to purchase about $3 for 40lbs, which is supposed to last 2 days – in other words ($45/mo) plus some small amount of electricity to run them. They are designed with “hoppers” to store pellets and feed the stove at a consistent burn rate, meaning you only need to refill them every few days based on the size of your stove. The pellets are very low moisture and burn efficiently, with much lower emissions than a normal wood stove. There is also much less waste product to clean out. And unlike log-burning stoves, these don’t require a working flue or a full-sized chimney to function. One website said that on average, people need about three tons of pellets to heat their home each year, which amounts to approximately $600. If your reader is paying $600/month for heat – you may have jumped the gun a bit on telling her that she can’t recoup the investment for a long time…this one may warrant some additional research.

  9. Erin says:

    I am confused. Her heating bill is already $600 a month. It is estimated to go up 50% and that would be $900 per month. Your estimated of $1000 a winter for burning wood sounds a whole lot better than $900 per month. Can someone explain this?

  10. jb says:

    Here’s a few more tips:

    * After you take food out of the oven and turn it off, leave the oven door open for a while. You’re paying for the heat left over in the oven, so let it spread into the house. (If you have toddlers in the house, then either don’t do this or make sure they stay away from the oven.)

    * We have an unheated walk-in basement. In the winter we use it as a mudroom; we always enter and exit through the basement. We attribute this to our huge (a few hundred dollars) drop in heat usage between last year and the prior year. There is never a door open directly between the outdoors and a heated room. (It also helps keep the kitchen floor clean.)

    * Leave a blanket on the couch, and use it when watching TV.

  11. Curtis says:

    I live in Texas so heating is not a big an issue as it is up north but being a third generation HVAC tech I would be careful in thinking space heaters will save you money. Some cheap and/or older space heaters are very inefficient and could end up costing you more than if you just used your furnace in well insulated home. Especially if you are using more than one. Getting a modern, quality heater could save you money down the road but there is a bigger up front cost to buying one versus a cheaper one.

    Another tip that could be added to the list is setting your ceiling fans to spin the opposite direction (most fans have reversible motors) and run them on a low speed. This will recirculate the warm air in the room and the heater will be needed less.

    And just a note about the filters, use pleated filters (the washboard kind). True they cost a little more but they last three times as long as the throw away cheap-o kind and they do a better job. Check with some local supply houses, most will only sell to licensed HVAC companies but a few do sell selected products (like filters) to the public. Locke Supply Co. is one such store in our area. A $20 filter at the local hardware store might cost has little as $5 at the supply store. Of course prices are going to be higher for general public sales versus selling to a HVAC company. (there are even different price points for HVAC companies depending on the size of the company and how much they purchase in a year) Also more common sizes such as 20x20x1 are going to be cheaper than odd sizes so that’s something to keep in mind if you changing out your system. And of course change them regularly as needed. Just like brushing you teeth before going to the dentist, they can tell you haven’t been flossing and now you have to get a cavity filled. HVAC techs can tell when the filter doesn’t get changed on a regular basis and that can lead to getting the coil getting dirty and clogged. I’ve seen coils get dirt caked on so thick that barley any air can get through. In some (if not most) cases you can not get to the coil well enough to clean it thoroughly with out pumping down the freon, cutting the copper lines, pulling the coil out, cleaning it, put it back and re-welding the lines. A service call like that would cost much more than if they had just changed the filter when it needed it.

  12. Jen says:

    One of my college roommates gave me a “corn bag”–a pouch filled with dried corn kernels. The whole thing can be put in the microwave and heated, giving the benefit of a hot water bottle without the possibility of leaks. Don’t know where you can buy them, as mine was made by one of her relatives, but that thing got me through the Winter of the 52-Degree Bedroom. That, and a lot of hot tea. :-)

  13. Colin says:

    Move to San Antonio, my heating bill last year was around $35… for the entire “winter” :)

  14. A couple of different things to touch on:

    The amount of wood needed to heat a home varies *enormously* depending on the type of stove. It may or may not be of use to those who plan to stay in their current home, but I would suggest googling the following terms (separately): Heatmor, “rocket stove”, and “masonry heater”. All of these are wood burning. The Heatmor can be retrofitted to an existing house, with some difficulty. It’s an outdoor wood furnace. The rocket stoves and masonry heaters are quite difficult to add to an existing home, but are incredibly, unbelievably efficient. Add them to your plan for a new construction home, and you will need a startlingly small amount of wood to keep your home warm each winter. If you plan to build in an area with serious winters, this research is worth doing.

    Second item: the cooking idea is good. Baking is even better as more heat is usually generated by heating up the oven than by running the burners. Bake some bread or cook a casserole and you’ll be amazed how much warmer the house is. But I’m convinced that it’s at least partly perceptual. A house that smells of fresh baked bread is bound to feel warm and cozy.

  15. GettingThere says:

    Be careful about not using your bathroom vent — a poorly vented bathroom that is often steamy can lead to the development of mold growth, an insanely expensive problem to fix!

  16. BonzoGal says:

    Jen, you can do the same thing with rice- I fill an old gym sock with rice, tie off the end, and heat it in the microwave to use as a neck-warmer. (Be sure not to microwave for TOO long, as sometimes the rice will burn.)

    Wearing socks in bed keeps me warmer- not very cute or romantic, but my feet are the coldest part of me, and wearing socks helps a lot at night. (Plus my poor husband doesn’t have to suffer when I accidentally put my ice-cube feet on his legs!)

    Eating a hot breakfast everyday seems to help too- I feel a lot warmer if I eat oatmeal vs. cold cereal.

    I also found that after I started working out regularly, I’m a lot warmer- better blood circulation and increased metabolism.

  17. justin says:

    Everyone, Wait a minute…. aren’t we supposed to be having global warming??? Why prepare for winter? LOL Al Gore is a joke!

  18. @ Erin,

    If the total cost of heating your home for a winter comes to $1000, that would represent an excellent savings over (at least) three months of $900 expenses. “Winter” is longer than three months in many places. But if we stick to a short heating season, then 3 months x $900 = $2700. Now can you see how $1000 vs. $2700+ starts to sound pretty good?

  19. Lisa says:

    Justin, burning wood (a renewable resource) or pellets (a recycled renewable resource) will actually produce some CO2 as well so that should make you even warmer.

    I am not knocking the wood burning at all. But I do want to point out that the addition of particulates and CO2 to the atmosphere are a cost that traditional economics does not put a dollar price on. Many of the readers of TSD consider the hidden price of pollution, health, fire safety, global warming, and other such items in their own accounting.

    In addition to Trent’s good advice, I offer LL Bean Shearling-lined slippers (or the like) as a good way to fight the winter cold.

  20. Anna says:

    Another way to warm the bed: Shortly before bedtime, heat up a cast-iron frying pan or griddle on the stove, then put it between the sheets at foot level. Leave it there for 5 minutes or so, remove it, hop into bed, and enjoy warm toes.

  21. justin says:

    Lisa, My only point is that global warming is stupid. In the 70s, they were worried about a global iceage.

  22. Trent says:

    Wood pellets require a special stove ($1,500 to $3,000) and a manufactured fuel only available from a few vendors. That’s a situation that I would never commit my long-term heating plans to. For example, in 2005, there was a massive pellet shortage, leaving many homes without the three tons (!) of pellets they needed to even use the stoves, and the ones that did have enough pellets often had to pay large premium prices.

  23. K says:

    Sandra – I too live about 10 miles from Lake Erie, and we keep our house at 55 all day/night. We turn it up to about 62 when we get home from work for about 3-4 hours, and in the morning we use an electric oil-filled heater in the bathroom. We use an electric blanket to preheat the bed which helps a lot. Even after the blanket shuts off, I still get hot under the covers even with the house at 55. Our highest bill last winter (electric and gas combined) was $120.

    The rice bag is a great suggestion. I made one with a washcloth. Fold it in half and sew around the three edges with the exception of about 1-2″ on a short side. Turn inside out and fill halfway with uncooked rice. Then sew the bag up the rest of the way (this part probably has to be done by hand). I put it in the microwave for about 2 minutes and it’s nice and warm. I like to stick it in the front pocket of my hoodie or on my feet.

    Wood pellet stoves are VERY efficient and economical. I know someone who has one and loves it. The biggest problem at least around here is not the price of the pellets but the availability, since they have become so popular. But if you get them far enough in advance, you should be fine.

  24. Matt says:

    Trent, Thanks for the post. I have been looking for solutions to this problem myself trying to prep for winter.

    In my search I came across an article for an inexpensive solar heater. Its called a Thermosyphoning Air Panel (TAP) and they can either be built into the side of your house or I saw some plans for window units. Basic concept is cold air from your house enters the bottom of the panel, energy from the sun heats the panel and the air which causes the air to rise and it flows back into your house at the top. I would love to try this in my home but I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it work with the orientation of my house (my south facing wall is the garage). But I am curious to know how well it works if anyone has tried it.

    The link to the article is below.
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SpaceHeating/solar_barn_project.htm

  25. We use propane for our central heating, but supplement it when we can with a traditional fireplace. The wood comes from our property, so really only costs me the time to chop it up. Of course, the fireplace option means we have to huddle around it for warmth; fortunately my wife and I like each other. ;-)

  26. @Dave: We got an infrared heater last year. It certainly helped, and we were able to keep our programmable thermostat lower than the year before.

    It didn’t work wonders, though. For us, it simply was one more weapon in our heating arsenal, along with central heat and good blankets.

    The ads are correct in that they really don’t cost much to run. We’d have it on pretty consistently throughout the day, and didn’t notice much of a change in our electricity bill.

    In total, the unit paid for itself in just that first year (compared to the heating bills from the previous year), but it was the silver bullet I hoped it might be. It might work better in a closed room as opposed to an open floor plan.

  27. Kate, I agree with you. I love to bake, but I hold back in the summertime due to the oven heat issue. Come cold weather, though, I happily bake up a storm. Homemade bread is cheap to begin with, and the added heat is a nice bonus.

    We keep our heat set at 68, which is about as low as my husband can stand it. lol I’m totally impressed by the reader who perseveres at 57!

  28. KC says:

    We have gas heat in our home and if we don’t set it at 64 or lower we’ll suffocate upstairs. So we just put a sweat shirt at the top of the stairs and put it on when we go downstairs where it might be a bit chilly. Since we’re in the south our heating bill isn’t too high anyway, but the toasty gas heat certainly helps us save money cause we have to turn it down. I also keep the blinds open as soon as I wake up so that the sun can come in and naturally heat the house as much as possible.

  29. SBT says:

    Most people I know who have a wood stove don’t try to replace their furnace with it, instead, they use it to supplement their conventional heat. Modern wood stoves have catalytic burners that produce very little ash and burn the wood more completely than older designs. With an inexpensive/free source of wood, it can be a viable replacement.

    Our wood stove was already in our home when we bought it, and since we bought the home well under market value, I don’t see it as an additional expense. It makes our walk-out basement comfortable to be in on winter evenings, or when it’s below zero, and definitely helps warm the whole house as well. We paid $80 for a half cord of wood delivered and stacked, which lasted from October to February. I’m sure that in our case it’s well worth it for the supplemental heat. Our winter heat bills are pretty low. Still, it’s not the same for everybody.

  30. Macinac says:

    We have one warm room; five cool ones; and the rest cold. The kitchen gets heat from the stove when we cook, and from the refrigerator when it runs, and from the furnace if it’s on. By finagling, I can run furnace heat to only the kichen when I’m alone in the house. The other five rooms get heat after school hours — say five to nine; and the basement is unheated.

    Over the summer I did have new insulation put in the attic, and now I’m looking for a “chimney pillow” to prevent heat loss up the fireplace flue.

  31. Erin says:

    Kate@living the frugal life – that was my point. Trent indicated that it was not much of a savings to burn wood at $1000 per winter over using more conventional type heating sources at $900 per month. It sounds like a very worthwhile savings to me to burn wood.

  32. Kate in Canada says:

    We were very lucky to be given – FREE! – a brand-new airtight Fisher stove/fireplace insert, and so made sure the house we bought soon afterward had a fireplace of the right size & dimensions. As soon as we had the stove properly installed, my husband went out and made friends with several tree-removal companies in our area. Now, instead of hauling the trees they take out to the dump or a remote recycling facility, they just toss the logs over our back fence. We get free heat, they don’t pay any dump fees – a true win-win situation :-)

  33. eve says:

    Something to double check w/ a heating expert but I think it’s better & safer to just *close the doors to unused rooms* than shut the vents. Shutting the vents creates a heat build up in the heating system back to the furnace (which I don’t think is good, but can’t remember the specifics).

  34. Jon says:

    I can get a cord of wood delivered for $180 and we will go through 1.5 cords at the most over the winter. This is to exclusively heat the entire house, no electricity used at all.

  35. Kevin says:

    BonzoGal – I’m going to show my wife your comment. She thinks I’m crazy for only eating oatmeal in the winter, but I just can’t start a warm summer day with hot oatmeal for some reason.

    justin – global warming or not, we should all be concerned with the harm being done to our world. Clearly the amount of fuel our country uses is out of whack and not sustainable. I don’t understand why conserving resources is such a bad thing. Please enlighten me.

  36. Lianna says:

    I enjoyed this post. As a native of northern Michigan, I’ve used all of these tactics. I’ll point out a great unexpected benefit of a cool house in winter:
    In college, we kept our house (right on Lake Superior) at 55 degrees. Because it was so chilly to sit around in our rooms alone, we would find ourselves naturally congregating in the kitchen or anywhere that the presence of other people warmed up the place. As a result, we spent more time doing our homework in companionable silence, or sharing our meals with each other. I realize it seems like I’m attributing a lot to a chilly house, but try turning down the heat, and see if it doesn’t bring the reticent out to socialize. I have many fond memories of sharing my fresh made meal (with the oven door ajar after baking) with a housemate who came to the heat like a moth to the flame.

  37. Kandace says:

    What about using ceiling fans and run the blades clockwise? That should also help circulate the heat.

    We have our gas bills amortized over the course of the year, which helps our budget during the winter.

    We are lucky to have radiant hot water heat running through the floors of our house. My dear husband installed it. It’s about 4 times the cost of a furnace, but our gas bills are significantly lower and the house stays uniformly warm, not hot and cold with forced air.

  38. justin says:

    Kevin, because you can’t read… I DIDN’T say that conserving resources was a bad thing. I said global warming was stupid and al gore was a joke.

    Maybe you should be enlightened…..

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/bush/house.asp

  39. Claire says:

    No global warming, Justin?
    Tell that to the polar bears.

  40. Moneymonk says:

    Ohh I like the microwave water bittle trick.

    But how long does the warmth lasts?

  41. SwingCheese says:

    My parents (who live in the same latitude as Trent, but a different part of the state) have added a corn burning stove to supplement the heat in their house. I have no hard numbers as to the effect on the heating bill, but their house is nice and toasty in the winter, and they say that they have saved a bundle in heating costs. (I believe they simply leave the thermostat at around 50 and start the corn stove when they get home, but I could be wrong.) According to them, the corn is cheap and, in Iowa at least, plentiful :)

  42. Jim says:

    The energy saving ideas that Trent gave are all good and should probably be done first.

    But I wouldn’t rule out a wood or pellet stove.
    Hard wood is about the cheapest way to heat a home. If you can save $1000 a year on a stove then it may be worth the cost of installation. If you’re looking at $600 monthly bills going up 50% then thats up to $900 a month. $1000 for a winters worth of wood is not much in comparison.

    Installation costs may be expensive but it depends exactly on what you’ve got right now and what you will install. If you have a fireplace and chimney already then you are in good shape and a simple insert will work. That shouldn’t be too expensive.

    Pellet stoves are common in the Northwest and hard wood is pretty easy to come by. If you already have a fireplace then a simple wood stove insert could be done fairly practical or installing a pellet stove in front of your hearth and using the existing chimmney will work too.

    If you have any friends or relatives using wood or wood pellets then ask them how practical it is for them. My friend and uncle in the Northwest both use wood pellets and it saves them both money over electric and they have relatively cheap electric rates.

    Jim

  43. M says:

    Kandace I miss our hot water heat, we had the big radiators, they took up a lot of room, but we could just sit on one to warm up, put clothes on them while we took our showers, dried wet shoes, gloves and hats. I would notice the dogs move closer to them in the evening, I’m not sure why they don’t build more houses with hot water heat, our A/C was in the attic and the ducts were run up their to the rooms below. forced air you are either hot or cold, never just right. Sometimes I wonder why we sold our old house.

  44. M says:

    P.S. if you are doing a lot of baking put a small fan in the door way to push hot air into other rooms. I don’t shut the bathroom door when I shower, of course there is just my husband and I, that lets the heat and steam out into the other room.

  45. M says:

    Last post for this subject.
    Heated throws, they work like heating pads, low med and high but are big blankets. Use them while sitting on the sofa, but not in the bed, there isn’t a thermastate and you could burn yourself in the night. Although I’ve used it between the sheets to warm the bed but then shut if off. Best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

  46. DrFunZ says:

    Cover your head with a little woolen cap. Much heat goes out from your head because there is no fat on it. Socks on the feet and a cap on the head will keep you warmer than you ever thought possible. True, it is not romantic, but when involved in romance, aren’t ya hot enough??! Heat up, cool down and put the caps and socks on!

  47. Sods says:

    Wow, i think i found the first thing we Canadians buy cheaper than in the US. My father has a wood stove, and pays $55 per cord and a case of beer for delivery :) I suppose this is a somewhat special deal, but it still costs him 75% less than stated above.

  48. Minimum Wage says:

    I’m gonna be freezing this winter.

  49. JReed says:

    We live in Maine and its a woodstove for us to supplement our lowered thermostat for over 20 years. Heating oil prices probably won’t come down much in the future so the investment will help save for years not just the one season. We use an ecofan on top of the stove…it whirls and pushes the air just off the heat of the stove ; no electricity needed. And its a heated brick wrapped in flannel that takes away our freezing bed toes. We air dry our clothes on racks in front of the stove as often as we can because it helps keep the air moist.

  50. If you are willing to go that extra mile, literally, there are many people giving away free wood if you pick it up yourself. Search craigslist for free wood and you’ll see. Of course this wood will have to be dried out and chopped, so start planning now. Last winter, the only thing we paid to heat our house was gas money to get the rounds. The thermostat was set to 55F and it rarely switched on.

  51. Steoh says:

    It’s worth mentioning that air-sealing your home and not venting moist air can cause mould problems, something that I recently discovered when I moved inland. Mould can cause health-problems, particularly if you have allergies or are asthmatic.

    I’ve heard that having double-paned windows can help to reduce the possibility of mould (as well as helping to insulate your home) but if you’re living somewhere without those and you keep all of that moist air inside, you’re pretty much bound to get some mould growth.

  52. Aggie says:

    There are these really neat indoor filters for your electric clothes dryer that will allow the air to be filtered a second time before blowing it back into your house.

    When I lost mine in my last move, instead of buying a new one, I tied a loosely woven fabric pillow case over the end of the big hose, then just ran it outside the laundry room. It does a great job warming up that end of the house.

    I’m not too sure doing this on a gas dryer would be safe.

  53. Jared says:

    Turn off the heat in unused rooms

    A word of warning on this – I’ve always heard that this is not such a good idea, especially when the room is an exterior room. You turn off heat to that room, and then the cold seeps through your non-insulated adjacent walls.

  54. Aggie says:

    Oh.. and I love the comments on socks….

    You know.. socks CAN be sexy.. you just gotta get neat above the knee ones XD I like to buy my striped socks from historical costume suppliers in a wide variety of colors.

    Aggie

  55. mister worms says:

    Last year we bought a pellet stove that sits in the former fireplace. We used 1.5 tons of pellets at $250/ton delivered and were able to heat the whole house, rarely turning on the baseboards. Installation of a wood stove is not always difficult and/or expensive. The place we bought from had a $400 flat fee for all installs and gave half a ton of free pellets.

    As far as the environment goes, I’m pretty sure the local waste wood we’re burning is better than the alternative of coal burned by the electric plant.

  56. Jennifer says:

    As an insurance broker in Canada, another cost factor to having a wood stove installed might be the cost of your house insurance. Not sure if companies in the US consider it a higher risk like we do up in Canada. Here, installing a woodstove can increase your house insurance anywhere from 10%-25%, even if you’re only using it for one or two months out of the year. Not sure if our insurance companies have the same treatment for a pellet stove as that doesn’t seem to be very common in my neck of the woods. Though, with a 50% increase in heating costs, it still might be worth the increase.

  57. Sharon says:

    You forgot the plastic on the windows. We put two to 4 layers on our windows, and it really cut our heating bills. We can put the multiple layers inside by covering the removable screen on both sides,then putting another layer about 1/2 inch from the screen and another layer on the whole window. I buy the plastic and tape off season and on-line.

  58. Shuia says:

    great tips. we’re also moving into summer here (South Africa).
    I just want to ask though, wouldn’t a wood burning stove be bad for the environment?

  59. Shevy says:

    I started to write one of my long comments on this post, talking about changes I can make at my rural home, but it turned into a post of my own.

    Bottom line. I can do a bunch of these things and save a *lot* of money this winter.

  60. Cindy says:

    Last winter we installed a pellet stove and it is the best thing we could have done. It nearly paid for itself in one heating season and my home was warmer than it ever was with our forced air gas furnace.

    As for a shortage of pellets, I bought mine at a discount ($175/ton vs $215/ton now) over the summer and have them already picked up and available for use whenever we need them.

    We are looking to renovate another house in the coming months to be able to move and we will be putting in a woodstove or a pellet/corn stove as the heating source. Both give you wonderful heat for your money.

  61. Jon says:

    Shuia – It depends. If trees are being cut down to burn as fuel, and new trees are planted in their place, then it’s fine. The pollution that comes from burning the wood is equalized by the new trees, which absorb the pollution and use it to grow. This is what happens with modern North American commercial lumber yards. I’m not sure about wood pellets specifically but I suspect it’s also the case.

    I’m not sure what happens in South Africa. If trees are being cut down and never replanted, then yes it’s bad for the environment. Although if the trees are going to be cut down anyway (such as to clear land for farms), then burning the waste wood usefully as heating fuel is actually good, because the tree is already dead and will release all of its CO2 whether you burn it or it just rots (same effect but slower).

  62. Martin, the Netherlands says:

    I see that the thermostat shown is set at 22.5 C. How about wearing a sweater, and keeping it at 19 C?

  63. Anne says:

    I grew up in a drafty old 1920s house with no insulation and the original windows. Honestly, one thing you can do is just get used to being a little cold. I agree with #4, set the thermostat to the lowest reasonable level and then adapt from there.

    Usually the only cold you really notice at those temperatures are hands, feet, and head so if you can figure out a way to keep those 3 body parts at a comfortable temperature then a sweater and a warm drink will do the rest. At night the key is, as Trent said, to warm up the bed quickly. If you have wool and/or down blankets they’ll trap the heat and keep you nice a toasty all night.

  64. Dawn says:

    We hung insullated curtains last year. It sounded dumb, but my mom said it would be great-and it has been! It really warmed up the room with big windows (we don’t use them at night, and the curtains keep the air out) and this summer, it helped keep the room cool during the sunny part of the day. It is probably the best $150 I spent.

    We also installed a ceiling fan and that has helped both keep it cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.

  65. Anjanette says:

    THANK YOU for an article on this topic! I am planning to hold a meeting about it here in our transitional housing facility very soon!

  66. Patrick S. says:

    Hate to be nit-picky but there is no such thing as a “hot water heater”, it’s just a water heater. Anyway, one thing I did a few years ago was to buy an electric bed warmer. I found electric blankets too cumbersome to sleep with. The bed warmer goes under your fitted sheet and it has a temperature control so you don’t get too hot at night. Along with a programmable thermostat and a warm comforter, I’ve stayed pretty cozy in the winter!

  67. randy says:

    caution should be used when shutting off furnace supply registers in unused rooms.

    this can create problems with your furnace shortening its life by potentially damaging the heat exchanger (which can be deadly dangerous) and can also cause it to funtion in a way that would be less efficient than before closing the registers.

    to be brief, your furnace requires enough air passing over the heat exchanger to keep it from overheating. ideally, the furnace burner will stay on thru its cycle until the thermostat is satisfied. longer (read: correct) cycles are the most efficient. when you choke off the air flow, by closing off registers and/or with dirty filters, the furnace will sometimes ‘cycle on its limits’. limits are saftey devices to keep the furnace from exceeding dangerous design temps. furnaces shouldn’t reach their limits in normal circumstances though, and if forced to do it repeatedly the heat exchanger can develop cracks in it (not good).

    here is where/how money gets lost. -

    if you force your furnace burner to cycle on and off during a heat cycle, you are spending un-needed $ reheating the heat exchanger again and again (which has to happen before it’s warm enough to transfer that heat to the air passing by it). its cheaper to keep it at its design temp during each cycle.
    * the low air flow problem is further compounded by inadequately designed low-flowing ductwork that is unfortunatly more common than not. closing registers, dirty air filters are the icing on the cake.

    if you damage your equipment and it needs repaired or replaced sooner than it might have originally, you have saved less than nothing.

    last but definately not least – if you do develop a breach in the heat exchanger, you can allow carbon monoxide to enter your home. it can kill you.

    i’m all for saving money, thats why i come here. i would caution you to add some disclaimers with your advice as ‘its all fun and games until someone gets hurt’.

    thanks.

  68. Elizabeth says:

    Excellent points, Trent. I would add insulating your WALLS if you live in an old house — I had it done this summer and can already tell the difference in keeping our house cool, and can’t wait to see if we can feel it in the winter.

    We heat almost exclusively with a wood stove (about 2 cords per winter) and have never paid for wood in the last 3 years. We watch for trees coming down in the neighborhood and ask the tree company cut the logs to the right length for our stove. If we’re lucky, they’ll drop it off in our driveway; otherwise, we get them to leave it there and we haul it home in our trailer. They’re usually happy not to have to run it to the dump. We have to split the wood, though, and let it sit for at least a year to season.

    It bears mentioning that burning a fire in your fireplace is NOT a way to save on heating costs — fireplaces are very inefficient and usually end up creating a draft that sucks a lot of cold air into your house.

  69. randy says:

    caution should be used when shutting off furnace supply registers in unused rooms.

    this can create problems with your furnace shortening its life by potentially damaging the heat exchanger (which can be deadly dangerous) and can also cause it to function in a way that would be less efficient than before closing the registers.

    to be brief, your furnace requires enough air passing over the heat exchanger to keep it from overheating. ideally, the furnace burner will stay on thru its cycle until the thermostat is satisfied. longer (read: correct) cycles are the most efficient. when you choke off the air flow, by closing off registers and/or with dirty filters, the furnace will sometimes ‘cycle on its limits’. limits are safety devices to keep the furnace from exceeding dangerous design temps. furnaces shouldn’t reach their limits in normal circumstances though, and if forced to do it repeatedly the heat exchanger can develop cracks in it (not good).

    here is where/how money can get lost. -

    when/if you force your furnace burner to cycle on and off during a heat cycle, you are spending extra $ by having to reheat the heat exchanger again and again (which has to happen before it’s warm enough to transfer that heat to the air passing by it). its cheaper to keep it at its design temp during each cycle.
    * the low air flow problem is further compounded by equipment that is over sized to begin with and/or inadequately designed, low-flowing ductwork. both are unfortunately more common than not. closing registers, dirty air filters are the icing on the cake.

    if you damage your equipment and it needs repaired or replaced sooner than it might have originally, you have saved far less than nothing.

    last but definitely not least – if you do develop a breach in the heat exchanger, you can allow carbon monoxide to enter your home. CO can and does kill people every year.

    annual equipment inspection and CO detectors are both money well spent in my opinion.

    i’m all for saving money, thats why i come here. however, i would caution you to add some disclaimers with your advice as ‘its all fun and games until someone gets hurt’.

    thanks.

  70. therov says:

    My local utility allows me to pay my gas bill throughout the year in equal installments to help ease the pain of the winter months–so we can budget throughout the year and not suffer greatly when when the temperature dip causes a surge in the bill. While the other tips listed above are certainly critical ultimately to keeping that cost low, paying in installments helps us stay sane.

  71. BigMike says:

    I wished I had read this sooner. I thought of a corn stove back when corn was dirt cheap. Then the price shot up, glad I waited. I have friends that have purchased the Suntwin heaters, basically the same as EdenPure and they work great. The one really good aspect is they do not remove all of the humidity which is a concern, after installing a bamboo floor in our kitchen this year.

    The other product that I have considered is the new Electrolux Stove that can boil water in 90 seconds using induction heat. They are a little pricey though!

  72. Matt says:

    This is a good post. I will have to apply some of these tips soon. I also in the winter use a black comforter. It absorbs heat in from the outside beautifully.

  73. janice says:

    WONDER IF AGGEE WOULD TELL ME WHERE HE GOT THE INDOOR FILTER FOR THE ELECTRIC DRYER

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