Stay Warm This Winter and Save Money, Too

This blog was authored by my colleague Ashley Leung

Winter is coming and so are the dreaded costs of high heating bills. As much as half of your household’s energy use might involve heating your home. Fortunately, reducing that energy consumption can be easy, cost-effective, and painless.

Not only will smarter energy use help keep your bills low, it also reduces the need to use fossil fuels to heat our homes—and avoids the associated climate-warming emissions. That’s important in light of recent reports highlighting the extremely urgent need to address climate change nationally and internationally.

So, what can you do to keep your costs under control while helping to save the planet? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay warm and cozy this season, while also saving on your energy bills.

Conduct an Energy Audit

A great and easy first step is conduct an energy audit on your home, which will help you determine the best energy-saving improvements to make. First, check to see whether heat (or cooling in the summer) could be escaping from your home through small holes. Check out the Department of Energy’s list of potential cracks or gaps—including doors and window frames, electrical outlets, fireplace dampers, wall or window-mounted air conditioners, mail slots—or this ENERGY STAR illustration to learn about common air leaks.

EPA

For a more comprehensive look, reach out to a professional. Many utility companies and state programs offer incentives, credits, or rebates to help customers find professionals that can figure out how to make their home more energy efficient all year-round by identifying energy leaks or recommending equipment to upgrade your home. Search for incentives by looking up your state here or look for tax credits here.

An energy audit can also help you identify all the cold spots that are harder to find. If you add up all the holes in a typical house, they can add up to the equivalent of keeping one window open around-the-clock. The auditor will give you recommendations on how to seal all those pesky holes so that you save energy and money.

iStock/AndreyPopov

Seal Your Home

Get started on winter-proofing your home now by sealing  the leaks that may be letting precious heat (and money) escape. Up to a third of your home’s heat loss might be escaping through your windows and doors. Thankfully, covering up some of those spots can be as easy as caulking and weather-stripping your home, using window film, or installing thermal-insulated curtains. In fact, the cost of caulking and weather-stripping can be offset within a year through lower utility bills.

A typical home might lose 20 percent to 30 percent of air in its heating duct system just due to leaks. While you may need to enlist a professional to help seal all the gaps in your duct system, you can also easily seal accessible ductwork in your attic, basement, or garage using mastic sealant or metal tape. See ENERGY STAR’s DIY guide for sealing and insulating here.

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

Draw the Curtains

Using your curtains wisely is an affordable and incredibly easy way to keep heat in your home. When drawn, most curtains help prevent around 10 percent of a room’s heat loss. Making sure that your curtains are hung close to the windows can help prevent as much as 25 percent of that heat loss. Opening the curtains on sun-lit windows helps with daylighting so that you get a boost of some solar heat. But remember to also close the curtains at night, or on windows that don’t get as much sun, so that you keep the heat in.

To find what works best for you and your home, this webpage from the Department of Energy describes an assortment of window treatments and how they can keep you warmer this winter. You don’t want your heat – and money – to fly out the window!

Check Your HVAC Equipment

Don’t forget to check your furnace filter on a monthly basis and replace it when it gets dirty. That will help improve the airflow throughout your home and make your heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems more energy efficient—which translates into energy bill savings for you. Hiring a contractor to check, maintain, and possibly upgrade your HVAC equipment on an annual basis also will help make sure that your home is efficient and comfortable all year-round.     

iStock/BanksPhotos

Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat may cost $100 or less and it can save you hundreds of dollars a year. By keeping your home warm when it is occupied and remain cooler while you are away, you can greatly improve the efficiency of your energy use. However, make sure to program your 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 HVAC professional for more details. A programmable thermostat is a really easy way to save energy—just set it and forget it!

Reverse the Ceiling Fan

Did you know that you can use your ceiling fan to help keep your home warm (and energy bills lower), too? Many fans have the option to reverse directions so that they spin clockwise at a low speed. Since heat rises, this helps to pull cooler air upward to the ceiling and push warmer air downward to where you are on the floor. Just using your fan efficiently can make as much as a 3- or 4-degree difference, which helps to take a load off of your heating system.

Improving energy efficiency is a great way to keep your winter energy bills low and help cut the emissions associated with the energy keeping your home warm. Take some of these easy steps and you won’t need to sacrifice your comfort or your money. Using any or all of these tips are great ways to winter-proof your house for the colder months ahead.  

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.