Efficiency and Chill: Winter Tips for Lower Heating Bills

This blog was authored by my colleague Ashley Leung.

Photo by Sam Beasley on Unsplash

With temperatures falling as winter approaches, here's a hot tip: As much as half of U.S. household energy use goes to heating and cooling. Improving the energy efficiency of your home will go a long way toward preventing heat from being wasted and escaping, which also will help you stay comfortable while cutting your heating bill.

Efficiency improvements can be easy and cost-effective. Reducing energy consumption also helps with curbing the climate-warming emissions generated when fossil fuels are used for heating, which means you can lower your home’s carbon footprint. Here are some tricks to make your home more efficient, saving you money. That’s easy to warm up to!

Find and Seal Problem Areas

A first step for figuring out how to improve your home’s energy efficiency can be as easy as walking through it to check for areas that may feel drafty because heat is escaping. The Department of Energy’s Do-it-Yourself (DIY) home energy audit page has simple tips to help you discover where your home is losing energy, which is a great starting point.

Up to a third of the heat loss might be through windows and doors. Other significant crack or gap areas might include lighting and plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, and baseboards. If you add up all the holes and gaps in a typical house, they can be the equivalent of keeping one window open around the clock!

Thankfully, sealing leaks could be as easy as using window film, caulking, and weather-stripping–and the costs can be offset within a year through lower utility bills. Most curtains also help prevent around 10 percent of a room’s heat loss when drawn, offering another easy and affordable solution. To learn which window treatments will work best for you and your home, the Department of Energy has a list here.

It's likely you could also benefit from more insulation in your attic, walls, ductwork, and other areas, which can save up to 20 percent off your heating bill! See this guide for more information.

Making sure your home is properly sealed and insulated also can reduce outside noise, prevent ice dams on the roof, and reduce the amount of dust and pests invading the premises.

Phone a Friend(ly Professional)

Not all air leaks may be easy to see or access, so once you’ve done what you can, consider bringing in a professional to conduct a full energy audit. It will give you a comprehensive look at all the hidden leaks in your home and provide recommendations on how to seal them to save more energy and money.

Hiring a professional doesn’t mean it’s expensive! Many utility companies and state programs offer incentives, credits, or rebates to help customers find professionals who can figure out how to make a home more energy efficient year-round. Search for incentives by looking up your state here or find tax credits here. The best part is that energy efficiency is often so cost-effective, it pays for itself in savings on your energy bill.

Kitchen Recipes for Efficiency

Who can resist warm cookies or a nice roasted dinner at this time of year? But have patience while your food is in the oven–its temperature may be dropping 25 degrees every time you open the door to check on your treats, meaning energy is flying out the door and more will be needed to get the oven’s temperature back up afterward. Only open the oven door at the time that cooking is scheduled to be completed.

Meanwhile, such appliances as slow cookers, pressure cookers, and toaster ovens sometimes can be energy-saving alternatives to your oven. Visit the Energy Department page here for more ways to make your kitchen energy efficient.

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Try a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can cost $100 or less and end up paying for itself, as it can save you around $180 a year in energy costs. By keeping your home warm when it is occupied and cooler while you are away, you can greatly improve the efficiency of your energy use. Lowering the thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees while you sleep can also help save around 10 percent on your heating bills. Get cozy with your blanket at bedtime and be comfortable with your heating bill when you wake up!

Be sure to program the thermostat according to what is most efficient for your heating system. For example, some heating systems may be most efficient if they are not strained to raise or lower the temperature of your home by more than a few degrees at once. Ask your heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) professional for more details.

HVAC Attack

Check your furnace filter monthly. A dirty filter slows airflow and makes your heating system work harder, possibly even leading to early system failure. Changing the furnace filter when dirty will help make your HVAC systems more efficient—which translates into energy bill savings. Best practice would also be to have a professional check, maintain, and possibly upgrade your HVAC equipment annually to improve efficiency and comfort year-round.

Apply Appliance Tips

Count how many appliances and devices you have plugged in around your home–chances are there are more than you expect! While they may not individually use a lot of electricity, they add up in your outlets and on your electric bill. Here are some easy, low- or no-cost ways to make sure you’re plugging in efficiently:

  • Devices that you’ve plugged in but aren’t actively using may be sucking energy without you even doing anything, adding about $200 in annual energy costs for the average home! Find out what you can do to reduce such vampire load–it may be as easy as unplugging devices when not in use, or buying an advanced power strip that can help you reduce electricity waste.
  • Replace inefficient light bulbs with LED versions–they’re more cost-efficient, last longer, and shine brighter than CFLs or incandescent bulbs.
  • Make sure new gadgets and appliances use technology that’s also energy efficient. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label signifying they are among the most efficient.

Improving your home’s energy efficiency is an easy way to save money on heating bills, increase comfort, and reduce your climate impact. Instead of dreading the cold, be ready for it!

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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