During the winter and summer months, our energy bills are often dominated by heating and cooling costs. Like it or not, furnaces and air conditioners are expensive to run, and there are a lot of ways to save specifically on winter heating bills and summer cooling bills.
To summarize, here are 20 things you can do in winter to save on costs:
1. Air seal your home.
2. Utilize warm clothes and blankets at home.
3. Experiment with lowering your home temperature.
4. Set ceiling fans to run clockwise.
5. Keep blinds and curtains closed except in direct sunlight.
6. Cook meals at home.
7. Use space heaters smartly.
8. Air up your tires.
9. Add a sweep to your garage door.
10. Drop your thermostat at night.
11. Avoid turning on exhaust fans unless you really have to.
12. Humidify your air.
13. Replace your furnace filter.
14. Add some insulation.
15. Put an insulating blanket on your water heater.
16. Drop your water heater temperature.
17. Close off unused rooms.
18. Use energy-efficient holiday decorations.
19. Use LED bulbs.
20. Consider window replacements.
Also, here are 17 ways to keep cool in the summer without the AC:
1. Run ceiling fans in summer mode.
2. Wear cotton clothes.
3. Take a freezer pack to bed.
4. Take a cold shower or bath.
5. Drink cold water – ideally ice water.
6. Turn off the lights.
7. Cool off with cold water playtime.
8. Cook outside.
9. Prepare only cold foods inside.
10. Chill your feet.
11. Go barefoot.
12. Draw the curtains or blinds against the sun.
13. Get on the floor.
14. Hang out in the coolest part of your home.
15. Use cross current airflow.
16. Snack on frozen fruits.
17. Go to the library.
Still, we don’t just get energy bills in the deep winter and summer. We use energy and pay for it all throughout the year, and there are many tactics you can use in the spring, summer, fall, and winter to keep energy costs low.
Here are fourteen strategies you can use during any season to keep your energy bill as low as possible without interfering with your quality of life.
When light bulbs burn out, replace them with LEDs.
LEDs are the most cost-efficient option when buying light bulbs for your home. Not only do they use very little energy while on, but they also have a very long life before they need to be replaced and they come in a wide variety of colors and shades. The only catch is that bulbs from reputable manufacturers are still a lot more pricy on the store shelves than the old incandescent bulbs we’re all used to, but you make that money back surprisingly quickly.
If you’re buying LED bulbs for your home, my advice is simple. Stick to reputable manufacturers. Compare lumens, not watts, to the bulbs you’ve bought before. Don’t go “all in” on a particular kind of bulb; buy one or two, try them, and then decide what to do from there. Remember that although the up-front cost is high, these bulbs will use little energy and last a very long time; they end up saving purely on bulb replacement over incandescents cost over the long term, let alone the energy savings.
Don’t rush out and replace all of your bulbs with LEDs, but if you’re still using incandescents or other bulb types anywhere, migrate to LEDs as they burn out.
Replace appliances when they fail with energy-efficient ones.
When an appliance in your home kicks the bucket, invest a little more upfront to buy an energy-efficient appliance from a reliable manufacturer.
How do you find out that information, though? For starters, check your library’s archive of Consumer Reports issues and follow its recommendations, focusing on reliability and energy efficiency over bells and whistles. Use that information when shopping for a major appliance.
This works for almost every major appliance one might buy, from microwaves, dishwashers and refrigerators to washers, dryers and hot water heaters. Start with CR, prioritize energy efficiency and reliability, and you’ll find yourself with affordable energy bills going forward.
Set your computers to shut down automatically at a certain time each night.
If you have a home computer or two, go into the settings for your model and have them automatically shut down at a certain time each night. Here, we use a shutdown time of midnight.
When that time approaches, your computer will pop up a message notifying anyone using it that it’s about to shut off and give them a button to click if they don’t want it to turn off. Otherwise, it’ll automatically shut down at the desired time.
This is a good move if you don’t want to leave your computer running all night. Even better, you can put your computer on a power strip such that when the power to your computer turns off, it automatically cuts power to all of the peripheral devices, so things like your monitor and printer aren’t gobbling energy on standby all night.
Practice the habit of turning off lights when you leave a room.
This is just a good habit to get into. If you’re leaving a room and aren’t coming back within a minute or two, get into the habit of turning off the lights.
This is something we’ve been working with our children on quite a lot lately. They leave lights and other devices on in a room when they leave, which just gobbles down energy for no purpose. Doing some quick math with them showed that simply flicking a couple of switches in, say, our basement room if no one’s going to be in there for the next several hours can literally trim a dollar or more off of our energy bill.
This shouldn’t be just a routine where you walk through your home turning off lights before you leave. Get into the habit of flicking them off all the time.
Put devices that don’t need to be on “standby” on power strips with a switch.
This simple move makes it easy to turn off “standby” power for things like phone chargers, toasters, coffee makers, and other items that don’t need standby power all the time.
Just put them on a power strip that has a switch. Install it behind a few of your small appliances but orient it so that you can get to the switch with relative ease.
Note that a “smart plug” doesn’t really help here, as “smart plugs” consume energy as they constantly listen for signals to turn on and off. The point of this is to avoid “phantom” energy draw, so the best solution is a strip with an actual physical switch on it. “Smart plugs” are great for convenience, but they’re not great for energy savings overall because of the power they consume themselves.
Maintain and clean your energy using appliances.
Almost every major appliance in your home is made more energy efficient by simply following the maintenance suggested in the owner’s manual for that appliance. You’ll also extend the life span of that appliance by simply maintaining it, saving a lot on any replacement.
Many of the tips are simple. Be sure to clean out the lint trap each time before you use your clothes dryer. Run an empty load in your dishwasher once in a while with just white vinegar. Set your refrigerator temperature at a certain setting based on where you live.
Some of them are bigger tasks, but make a huge difference. Clean out the pipe connecting your dryer to the exhaust once a year. Replace your air handling filters once every few months. Pull out your fridge and clean the coils on the back once a year.
All of those steps (and more) significantly improve the energy efficiency of your appliances and extends their lifespan, too.
Avoid using the drying cycle on your dishwasher.
When you run a load of dishes and notice that they’re now on the drying cycle, stop the dishwasher and just open the door. Your dishes will naturally air dry, just like people used to do with a drying rack before dishwashers were around. There’s no need to be wasting energy on drying.
If your dishwasher allows you to optionally turn off the drying cycle, do so unless you need the dishes dry very quickly. If you’re like me and you usually run a load just before bed, then there’s no reason to waste energy running a drying cycle so that they’re dry by 10 p.m. when they would just naturally dry overnight anyway.
Drying mode is really only useful if you need dry dishes quickly. If you don’t — and that’s the reality for us most of the time — then skip it and save the energy.
Do only full loads of laundry, but don’t overfill.
Almost every washing machine in the world works best with a large, full load of laundry. It optimizes the use of water and agitation if you use a full load.
However, you shouldn’t overfill the washer. Rather, you want to loosely place clothes in the bin until it’s mostly full, according to the instructions on your washer. Don’t shove clothes or other items in there, but don’t under-fill it, either.
What you’re aiming for is the maximum efficiency in use of your washing machine. When you get it right, you minimize the water used per garment, the energy used in agitation per garment, and the wear and tear on your washing machine and its bearings. For most washers, this just means filling it to the top loosely with clothes, not pushing them down in there.
Wash your clothes with cold water.
Another valuable laundry tip: unless specifically directed to do so by the items you’re washing, wash and rinse them on cold water settings. This will get your clothes perfectly clean without having to use any hot water at all.
When you run a washer on warm or hot, water is coming in from your hot water heater, and that means that you’ve paid to heat up that water. That has a real energy cost that can add up and, unless it’s necessary for your garments, it’s not a useful energy cost.
I run all of our loads on cold wash/cold rinse unless specifically directed to do so otherwise by the items I’m washing.
Install well-regarded low flow showerheads.
People hear “low flow showerheads” and immediately imagine showers with just a trickle of water, but actual well-designed low flow showerheads are nothing like that. You usually can’t tell the difference between a good low-flow shower head and a normal one.
What’s the trick? Good low-flow showerheads use a lot of tricks, but one is to aerate the water, effectively putting tiny air bubbles into every droplet. Another trick is to produce smaller droplets but actually produce more of them, which ends up cutting water use but still feels like a soaking shower.
Do your homework with low flow showerheads. While I’m not super experienced on various models, I have taken showers with this High Sierra shower head which produces a really nice shower while only using 1.5 gallons of water per minute, compared to many showerheads that use more than twice as much without any real improvement in shower quality.
Use an electric tea kettle (or an induction stove top, if you have one) for heating water.
Electric tea kettles are designed to do one task very efficiently: heat up water. Most of the ones you find today do this task extremely well, with minimal energy use, and so if you often use hot water for tea, coffee, soups and recipes, an electric kettle will eventually pay for itself. (It’s also a super practical gift.) I love my Cuisinart CPK-17 and use it frequently (it was hands-down my favorite gift from the holidays in 2018), but there are many good, less expensive models.
The only way to conveniently heat water more efficiently than that is to use an induction stovetop, and those are rather pricy and not particularly common yet.
So, if you do a lot of heating of water for beverages or cooking or other purposes, consider getting an electric kettle. The efficiency gain over a normal stovetop or a microwave is a pretty good energy saver.
Get out of the habit of opening the oven door while cooking.
When you’re cooking something in the oven, try to avoid opening the oven door if at all possible. Only do so if you’re actually removing the food or doing a vital adjustment (like turning something over). Look at the food only through the glass as it cooks.
Why? Whenever you open the oven door, you let out a ton of heat, and then the oven has to work quite a lot to generate that heat again. It’s fine if you’re done cooking and the oven is now off, and it’s acceptable if you need to move the food around, but if you’re just glancing at something, it’s costing you.
It’s not a big deal. Just break the habit of “peeking” in the oven, especially if you cook stuff in the oven frequently.
Regularly ensure that all of the outside vents in your home are clear and unobstructed.
Once every few months, go around your house and examine every single vent on the exterior of your home. Is there anything at all obstructing it? Is there any debris or lint in the vent?
Every single air vent for your home should be unobstructed and clear of debris. It’s not hard to check it and it’s not hard at all to clear it.
Doing so ensures that every ventilation fan in your home, for any purpose, runs more efficiently and thus needs to run less frequently. When you flip on the vent fan in your bathroom, for example, the moisture will escape much faster and thus you won’t need to run it nearly as long.
Talk to your energy company.
A final tip: you can often get quite a bit of help with making your home more energy-efficient via your energy company. Most energy companies offer a number of programs and features that encourage cutting home energy use, including things like energy bill reductions for energy-efficient purchases, home energy audits, and so on.
Many people question why energy companies promote home energy efficiency. The answer’s simple: America’s energy grid is pretty close to being overloaded, with more energy-sapping homes and businesses all the time, and it’s cheaper to encourage customers to trim a little energy from their usage than to build a new power plant. Furthermore, such activity is often promoted by the government, as they’ll nudge energy companies to focus on getting customers to be more energy-efficient rather than just building another plant.
Take advantage of these programs. Check out your energy company’s website and see what they offer that can help you improve your home’s energy efficiency for free or for cheap.
Saving on energy isn’t just a heating and cooling thing.
Your home uses energy in many ways beyond merely heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. The more steps you take to save on those other energy areas, the more money you’ll save all throughout the year.