Five Minute Finances #11: Open All Your Vents In The Winter

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

This is a tip that my parents discovered the hard way after I moved out, and it simply works. When I first moved out, my parents stopped heating the upstairs of the house because there was no one using the bedrooms upstairs. They simply went upstairs and closed up all of the vents without thinking too much about it. It makes sense, right? You’re just paying extra for the furnace to blow heat into rooms that aren’t being used.


They didn’t notice the problem the first winter because it was viciously cold; the bill was quite high, anyway, and they blamed it on the frigid temperatures.

The second winter, though, they expected to have nice low bills – and they weren’t so low. In fact, their average bill was roughly $30 higher a month than they expected. Why? It turns out that their gas usage in the furnace was higher than two winters previous, even though the outside temperature was warmer.

How is that possible? First of all, the furnace in their home was designed to blow hot air into every room in the house. By shutting off the vents, they were wasting a lot of hot air that was simply just circulating around and eventually coming out of the other vents.

Second, and more importantly, the cold air upstairs was draining the heat downstairs. Heat rises, and thus the heat from the first floor would seep up into the cold second floor through the stairwell and even directly through the ceiling to a degree. This same principle is true even in a one-story home if you have some rooms that you’re not heating – you’re often losing heat if one room is significantly colder than the rest.

In the summer, for their central air, it didn’t matter nearly as much because, again, the upstairs would be hot and they wanted only cool air. However, in the winter, they are much better off with the vents open than with them closed.

If you have closed vents in your house during the winter, open them up, especially if you have multiple stories in your home.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.