A few days ago, we received our first measurable snowfall of the year, bringing us a two-inch blanket of snow that covered the world in white. It was a stark reminder that, although the calendar doesn’t quite say so (yet), winter has arrived.
As anyone who has ever had to pay an energy bill north of the tropics knows, cold weather can mean a spike in energy costs. It costs money to heat a home – serious money. Our energy bills tend to go up by about 50% in the winter – and that’s after doing almost everything we can think of to keep things under control. Before that? Our bills would often double compared to the fall.
So, what exactly are we doing to slice 25% off of our energy bill? For many people, that’s $50 or $100 a month in savings, so it’s well worth looking into. Here are 20 strategies we’ve employed over the last several years to grind down our winter energy costs.
Tactic #1 – Air Seal Your Home
This sounds intimidating, but it mostly just means looking for drafts (or places where there might be drafts) and closing them up with caulks and sweeps. The most common places that drafts enter your home are around the edges of doors and through the edges of windows, so with doors, a sweep on the bottom can block drafts and with windows, extra caulking around the edges can take care of the problem.
Both tasks are easy. Applying a sweep is usually just a matter of screwing a metal strip into your door (more on sweeps later). Caulking is similar to putting toothpaste on a toothbrush. Both will prevent cold air from entering your home (and hot air from leaving it), which means that your house will retain a lot more heat and your furnace will run less.
For a more detailed guide, check out this wonderful air sealing website from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Tactic #2 – Utilize Warm Clothes and Blankets at Home
When you’re just hanging out at home, just wear layers of clothes, like a t-shirt with a pullover sweatshirt or hoodie on top and jeans with a pair of sweatpants or long underwear on underneath. Wear thick socks, too. These layers will keep you warmer when you’re doing things at home, which means you’ll feel okay lowering your home temperature.
When you’re just kicking back in a room, grab some blankets and cover up. Blankets will get you warm surprisingly quickly, leaving you feeling good no matter what the ambient temperature is.
Combine the two and you never really have any reason to crank up the heat in your home.
Tactic #3 – Experiment with Lowering Your Home Temperature
Once you’ve started making a few adjustments that will keep you warm in the house all day long, start adjusting your home temperature downwards. If you normally run it at 68, try dropping it to 65 and see how that feels when you’re wearing warm clothes and keeping blankets in active use. When you try some of the other tactics in this thread, drop it to 62 or even 60.
I often keep my own home temperature at 55 during the day when I’m working. I’m usually dressed in warm layers and use a few additional tactics from this list at the same time, so I don’t even really notice it. Many days, the furnace never even kicks on during the day at all, which means that our energy bill stays cheap.
If you find that it’s just too cold for your liking, nothing’s stopping you from raising it back up a degree or two. The goal is to try out tactics that will cause you to tolerate lower temperatures without any discomfort and then actually adjust the temperature downward.
Tactic #4 – Set Ceiling Fans to Run Clockwise
It might seem counterintuitive, but running ceiling fans during the winter can actually make a room feel warmer.
In a still room, warm air rises and collects near the ceiling. There can be as much as a ten degree difference between the ceiling and the floor, which means that your feet will get cold first and you’ll be tempted to turn up the heat.
Instead, you should be running your ceiling fans in a slow clockwise direction. Doing this doesn’t use much energy, but it does pull air upwards in the middle of the room, pushing the hot air at the top of the room to the sides and down the wall. It creates a very gentle air flow that gets some of that heat down to the level of the floor. It can raise the temperature at floor level by as much as five degrees for very little electricity.
Most ceiling fans have a switch you can activate to move it between “summer” mode (counterclockwise, creating a “breeze” underneath it) and “winter” mode (clockwise, producing little noticeable air movement but causing the floor area to gently warm up). Just give it a flip… but remember to flip it back when April rolls around.
Tactic #5 – Keep Blinds Closed Except in Direct Sunlight
When the sun is directly shining in a window, it can feel quite warm – and it will have a slight heating effect on your house. When it’s not directly shining, however, you’ll want to give that window a bit more insulation in the form of closed blinds.
It’s pretty simple. When there’s direct sunlight on a window in your home, open the blinds. When you notice that there’s no direct sunlight on those windows, close the blinds. This allows you to enjoy the warmth and sunlight when the angle is right, but maximizes insulation of the window when the sun is behind clouds or on the other side of the house.
I notice this most in the mornings in my office. When the sun is shining, I raise my blinds and the natural sunlight really raises the temperature in there. As soon as the sun goes under or it reaches the far side of the house, I draw the blinds, which helps me retain that warmth. Because of that, I can get away with running the house temperature a little bit lower.
Tactic #6 – Cook Meals at Home
When you stick a meal in the oven, you’re not just heating the food. You’re also adding a bit of heat to the rest of your house. Your oven is not a perfect insulator – some of it does escape. When you pull out the food, the heat from the oven slowly dissipates into your house (and does it much faster if you leave the oven door open).
In the summer, this is a bad thing. You don’t want your house to have that extra heat. Thus, it makes sense to grill as much as possible or eat chilled meals. In the winter, that extra heat is a benefit as the extra heat seeps out into your house, raising the temperature a little.
Thus, in the winter, I’m very active when it comes to cooking at home. When I bake a loaf of bread in the summer, for example, the heat raises the temperature of the house when I want the house to be cool, so I usually try to avoid doing it. In the winter, the heat from the oven raises the house temperature when I want it to be warm, so the heat isn’t wasted and I can have inexpensive. delicious homemade bread and some nice warmth.
Tactic #7 – Use Space Heaters Smartly
If your home is arranged such that you spend almost all of your time in just one or two rooms, consider turning the furnace off entirely and just rely on space heaters for those areas.
Space heaters are far less efficient than furnaces, to be sure, but when you are using a space heater to merely heat a small portion of your home space, they’re actually cheaper to run. So, if you mostly just use one bedroom and the living room, keep a space heater with you in each room. Turn it on when you enter the room and turn it off when you leave.
If you turn it off while at work and turn it off while sleeping – which is the safe thing to do – a single 1500W space heater will only run about six hours per weekday and 16 hours on weekends. That’s about $1 a day in energy for weekdays and $3 a day in energy on weekends, adding up to about $38 in energy costs for a month. That’s going to almost always be cheaper than running a furnace.
Tactic #8 – Air Up Your Tires
It’s simple physics – when the temperature drops in the fall, the pressure in your car tires will lower. The air simply packs a little more tightly in there, thus exerting less pressure on the tire itself.
This has several effects, two of which are really relevant to you. One, low pressure increases the chance for a blowout or other severe tire malfunction. Two, low pressure hurts your gas mileage, which means you’re spending more on gasoline than you would otherwise.
The solution is easy. Get a cheap tire gauge – they cost $1 at a good auto supply store and about $2 at a gas station – then stop at a gas station that offers free air. Check your car owner’s manual to see what the recommended maximum tire pressure is, then air up each tire to that level (using the gauge to see how full each tire is). It takes about ten minutes to do this and should be done every month or two.
Not only are you saving money on fuel after doing this, you’re also avoiding blowouts, which would be quite expensive.
Tactic #9 – Add a Sweep to Your Garage Door
If you have a door that separates the unheated garage from your heated house (like we do), there’s a good chance that a constant trickle of air flows into your home under the door. Even though your garage is likely warmer than the outdoors (thanks to the adjacency to your home), it’s still likely colder than you want your house to be.
The solution is to add a sweep to your garage door. A door sweep is a metal strip with some sort of material hanging below it that’s meant to firmly touch the floor. Some sweeps have bottoms that appear broom-like, with lots of bristles, while others are pieces of rubber much like a window washing tool. Both serve the same purpose – to block easy air flow under the door.
Attaching such a strip is pretty easy – you just screw it into the door in a position where the sweep part is touching the floor evenly. This will make it just a bit harder to open and close the door, as the sweep will have some friction with the floor, but it will block the draft coming through that door.
Tactic #10 – Drop Your Thermostat at Night
Before you go to bed, turn down the temperature in your home to a rather low temperature, then curl up under the blankets for a nice winter’s rest. When you wake up, turn the temperature back up.
How does this help? Obviously, the lower the temperature, the less frequently the furnace (or other heating system) in your house will kick on, saving you energy while you sleep.
The big drawback to this is that you’ll get out of bed to a very cold house. The solution’s easy, though. Just get a programmable thermostat to do this automatically for you. If you normally wake up at 6 AM, set the thermostat to raise the temperature starting at 5:30 AM. The house will be warm when you rise from your slumber!
Tactic #11 – Never, Ever Turn On Your Exhaust Fans
An exhaust fan blows the warm air in your house outside, dropping the temperature of your home as that air is replaced with cooler air. Even worse, exhaust fans are usually blowing out moist air, which does a better job of holding the temperature. (That’s why you’ll see “steam” coming out of exhaust vents in people’s houses – the air is warm and moist.)
Instead of flipping on the exhaust fan when you take a shower, just leave the bathroom door open. This allows the warm air to naturally flow into the rest of the house, bringing the warmth of your shower along with it.
If you really need to get the warm, moist air out of the bathroom for mold reasons, set up a fan near the door and point it out of the bathroom, then flip it on while you’re showering. This will take the warm, moist air and distribute it out in your house.
Tactic #12 – Humidify Your Air
While we’re on the subject of humid air in the winter, a home humidifier is actually a great tool for cutting energy costs in the winter. Most furnaces blow out extremely dry air, which means that the air in your home is likely quite dry. That means it’s not good at holding heat and it doesn’t feel as warm, either.
A humidifier solves both problems. By adding some moisture to the air, it not only causes the air to feel warmer (think about “heat index” during the summer), it also causes the air to hold the heat more effectively. This means that the temperatures in your house will decline at a slower rate.
This is one reason why I love making soups in the winter. Not only are soups an inexpensive, warm, and delicious winter food, the process of cooking a soup inherently involves boiling water. The steam that rises off of the cooking soup is very hot and also full of moisture, both of which provide a small secondary benefit to heating your home. It’s not particularly efficient to leave soup on the stove just for the benefit of the steam, but it’s a nice small perk that can save you some pennies on your energy bill.
Tactic #13 – Replace Your Furnace Filter
If you have a forced air heating system, meaning that a fan blows warm air through the vents in your home, the air likely flows through a filter of some kind that removes some of the dust from the air, making your home air more breathable. That’s a good thing – but it comes at a cost.
Over time, that filter begins to get clogged up with dust. A filter that hasn’t been changed in a while is often shockingly dust-coated. That dust keeps the air from flowing well into your home, meaning that the fan has to run for longer to push warm air throughout your house.
The way to avoid that is to simply replace the filter on a regular basis. The filter package usually tells you the life span of the filter, so just use that as a guide. A fresh filter allows air to flow more freely than before, meaning less energy is used, plus it usually does a better job of removing dust.
Tactic #14 – Add Some Insulation
Insulation keeps the warm air inside your house thanks to materials within the walls and ceilings and floors that prevent the flow of heat. However, it’s often hard to tell whether there’s enough insulation.
Installing insulation can be a serious home repair task – you may want to call in help or at least get a friend who knows what they’re doing. However, you can usually figure out if you need insulation on your own.
Does your roof have a number of “melted spots” while other areas of your roof remain covered in snow (that’s due to heat just escaping like crazy straight up through your roof)? Do you have a lot of icicles outside your home, particularly those big long ones (that’s due to melting on your roof)? Those are signs that you need more ceiling insulation. It’s also not a bad idea to have a home energy audit, something that many energy companies will provide at low cost or even free of charge.
Tactic #15 – Put an Insulating Blanket on Your Hot Water Heater
If you have a tank hot water heater, it’s probably well-insulated already, particularly if you have a new one. You can tell by going near it – is the surface really hot? Or just warm to the touch? If it’s warm, you’re probably fine.
If it’s hot, you may want to consider an insulating blanket. This will keep the heat trapped in the water heater rather than dissipating outward.
Why is this important? In many homes, the hot water heater is positioned such that much of that radiated heat is lost to the outside. This just means the heater has to run that much more, burning energy. Don’t let that happen.
Tactic #16 – Drop Your Hot Water Heater Temperature
At the same time, you can improve your energy usage regarding your hot water tank by simply reducing the temperature of the hot water. Ideally, you want your hot water tank at a temperature so that pure hot water is about the hottest you would ever want it in a shower. For many people, this is around 120 F to 125 F, which is the right temperature for a hot water heater in most situations, as it’s about perfect for minimizing temperature and bacterial growth.
Many hot water heaters have a temperature gauge that you can adjust. Set that gauge to 125 F (52 C) and try it out. If it’s not hot enough for your showers, inch it upward slowly; otherwise, leave it in place.
Your water heater will now burn less energy keeping that big tank of water at a high temperature, which puts savings in your pocket.
Tactic #17 – Close Off Unused Rooms
If your home has any rooms that aren’t frequently used, go into those rooms and close off the vents. Then, close the doors behind you. You may even want to stack a blanket in front of the crack under the door.
What happens? Over time, the temperature in that room will drop. You’re no longer spending your hard-earned money heating and cooling that room (except for what flows in there through the walls). Every degree cooler that room is compared to the rest of your home is pure savings.
If you do need to use the room later, just open the door wide and turn on the vents. It will warm up surprisingly quickly.
Tactic #18 – Use Energy-Efficient LED Holiday Decorations
Many people choose to decorate the interior and the exterior of their homes with holiday lights. These little bulbs are beautiful, but they can certainly suck down the energy.
The most efficient way of handling this is to purchase LED bulbs when you need to replace a strand. LED strands usually cost a little more up front, but the bulbs basically last forever (usually, if an LED strand has a problem, it’s the strand, not a bulb) and they use very little energy compared to other kinds of bulbs.
We hang up somewhere on the order of 500 lights around our home during the holidays, so trimming a single watt off of each light means that we’re saving a kilowatt-hour of energy for every two hours the lights are on. A kilowatt-hour costs about $0.12. Thus, during a holiday season, efficient bulbs can end up saving you a lot of coinage.
Tactic #19 – Install LED Bulbs in Your Home
If LEDs work outside, why not put them to work inside? As your normal lightbulbs fail, replace them not with normal incandescents or CFLs, but with LED bulbs. They’re more expensive up front, sure, but they have a lifetime that’s twenty times longer than a normal incandescent and use about 20% of the energy. It doesn’t take too long for those bulbs to be far cheaper than the incandescents.
This is particularly true during the winter months, when the days are shorter and we’re cooped up in the house more. People tend to use a lot more artificial lighting during those months and if you can cut down on the amount of energy used to keep your home well lit, you’ll save quite a lot.
What about light quality? Today’s LED bulbs are almost indistinguishable from normal incandescents in terms of light quality. We are mostly switched over to LED bulbs and we basically can’t tell the difference. On the other hand, we were really dissatisfied with CFL bulbs.
Tactic #20 – Consider Replacing Windows
Do you have windows that ice over during the winter months? Are your windows made of single-pane glass? Do they leak air around the edges no matter what you do? Those are signs that your windows are disastrous in terms of energy efficiency and you should consider replacing them.
Window replacement is a serious home improvement task and probably not one that you want to take on during the winter months, but it is something to keep in mind for the following summer. It is a great do-it-yourself project for people who are learning, but others may just want to call someone to handle the project.
Energy efficient double pane windows that are well-fitted and well-sealed can keep a lot of the heat in your home during the winter (as well as keeping the cool inside during the summer).
There are many things you can do to reduce the impact of high winter energy bills. You’re probably already doing some of them, and there may be some that won’t work in your current living situation, but if you can pull even a few tips off of this list, you’ll quickly see a real impact when it comes to your winter heating and cooling bills.
Right now, my house temperature is 55 degrees. As far as I can tell, the furnace hasn’t kicked on all day. I’m nice and toasty in these thick socks and clothes and I’m thrilled that our energy bills are staying nice and low.
Hopefully, you can find yourself in the same situation this winter, with both home comfort and a low energy bill.