Simple Tips to Save Some Green
Burning money is hardly a good way to stay warm this winter. With the winter season now bearing down on us, there's plenty you can do to stay toasty and save yourself a lot of money at the same time. Heating our homes accounts for about 45 percent of our energy bills nationwide. (As a point of comparison, lighting uses only six percent.) So every little bit helps and could save you hundreds of dollars between now and summer.
Give Your Furnace a Checkup
Throughout the winter, your furnace will be working day and night to keep you warm. Make sure it's up to the task by getting it inspected by a professional. Your utility company may even offer a free service inspection for eligible households.
A clean, well-lubricated and optimized furnace can save you up to five percent on your heating bill this year. If your heating system is getting old, it may need parts replaced, like the burner, the fan, or even just a fan belt. However, if your furnace is on its last legs, it may be cheaper over the long-term to replace it entirely. If you get an Energy-Star certified furnace, for example, you could cut your heating bill in half, compared to many furnaces that are still in operation – but probably shouldn't be.
If you do need to replace your heating system, take a look at tax credits you may get from the federal government before making the investment, which could save you as much as $150. If you're thinking of selling your house soon, keep in mind that a new furnace can also increase your house’s market value.
Stock Up On Filters
Even if you get your heating system checked out by a professional, you'll still have to do some of the maintenance yourself, such as changing the furnace filter.
Not only does a clean furnace filter reduce dust from your home, it ensures your furnace doesn’t have to work overtime to get the warm air moving. The harder your furnace has to work, the more energy it consumes. You should replace furnace filters at least every two months when your furnace is running a lot, but maybe more often if there is a lot of dust in the air, or if you have furry pets. If your filter looks like an old sweater, swap it out for a new one immediately. It’s an easy thing to forget, so consider adding the task to your calendar.
Throwaway fiberglass filters can miss more than half of the dust passing through, while a permanent electrostatic filter can remove about 88 percent of dust. A HEPA filter can remove even more.
Turn Down the Heat
If you’re leaving work for the day, turn down the heat. Every degree you lower your thermostat can save you up to three percent on your monthly heating bill. A programmable thermostat makes this a no-brainer. Just program it to go down automatically during the weekdays when nobody is home. If you’re fond of thick blankets and duvets, turn the heat down when you go to bed at night. Program the thermostat to raise the heat just before your alarm goes off.
If you feel a bit chill, consider throwing on a sweater rather than turning up the thermostat. If you're comfortable walking around the house in a t-shirt and shorts during the winter, chances are your thermostat is set too high.
Invest in More Insulation
Take a look in your attic before the snow starts blowing to ensure your house is properly insulated. Up to 90 percent of American homes are under-insulated. Ideally, you should have at least one foot of insulation in the attic, depending on how cold your region gets. In more northern regions, you may want up to 18 inches.
If your insulation is old and dirty, you may be able to just put new insulation over top of it too keep your house warm and cozy this year. The higher the R-value, which stands for resistance to heat flow, the more protection an insulation gives you.
Don’t Get Steamed
Heating water accounts for 18 percent of your annual energy bill. The colder the air is in your basement, the more your water heater has to work.
The factory settings on your water heater may have it set to as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be scalding your utility bill each month. Reducing the temperature to 120 degrees can reduce the cost of heating your water by as much as 10 percent.
Protect Your Pipes
When temperatures drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, your water pipes are in danger of freezing and bursting. A burst pipe in your basement can cost you more than $5,000 in repairs. If you live in a northern region, turn off any pipes that lead outdoors or into an unheated garage and let them drain, as well as your garden hose if you're leaving it out.
Pipes that are exposed to the cold, including any in the basement, crawl space, attic, or along outside walls, are particularly vulnerable. The threat of freezing pipes is even worse whenever outside air can get to them, or if there are vents, cracks or other openings to the elements nearby.
Pipe insulation is easy to install, since it's essentially a foam tube that slips around the pipe, and costs only about 50 cents per foot. If the temperature drops considerably, letting a tap drip can help prevent the pipes from freezing.
If you head to warmer climes during the winter, turn down the heat, but don't let your house's inside temperature go below 32 degrees.
Wrap Your Windows
Every winter, between 10 and 25 percent of your heating budget may be going out the windows if you haven't winterized them. For a long-term energy savings plan, single-pane windows should be replaced with double-pane windows that have low-e or spectral-selective coatings.
Storm windows can reduce heat loss by between 25 and 50 percent, provided they are well-constructed. Look at the joints to ensure they either overlap or interlock to keep the drafts out. If the joints are flexible, they should be covered with movable weather stripping.
Putting clear plastic over the windows from the inside can further reduce heat loss. Most hardware stores sell window insulating kits that are made of a thin plastic film that can be stretched to near-invisibility with a hair-dryer. Alternatively, you can use a heavy-duty clear plastic sheet taped to the inside window frame to cut down drafts significantly.
If your home needs some redecorating, consider getting some insulating window shades that fit tightly over the window.
As one more level of protection against cold window drafts, closing your curtains at night will help keep the cold out, while opening them in the sunlight can help the sun's warmth get in.
Disrupt the Drafts
Cold air can seep into your home from a lot of places. Some of the biggest culprits may be obvious, like around window frames and doors. Other places, such as around pipes, appliance exhaust vents and baseboards, may require a bit of detective work to find. On a cold, windy day, you can often find drafts just by holding your hand, or a lit candle, near walls, windows and doors.
Caulking and weather stripping can eliminate most of these drafts for just a few dollars, reducing your heating bill and making your home more comfortable at the same time.
Measure your windows and doors before buying weather stripping and then add another 10 to 15 percent to ensure you have enough. Vinyl weather stripping is good for high-traffic areas that may get wet, like the bottom of exterior doors. Foam or felt weather stripping is usually less expensive and easier to apply over drafty places, like window frames.
Caulk is another good investment, which is ideal around pipes and windows. If you don't feel comfortable applying caulk with a caulking gun, you might be pleased to know that you can also buy it in peel-off strips, squeeze tubes and even in aerosol cans.
If you feel a draft from an electrical outlet that's on an exterior wall, you can get insulating foam gaskets that fit under the outlet's cover. Alternatively, a bit of caulk between the wall and the outlet cover can often do the trick too.
Switch Back Your Ceiling Fans
Just about everyone knows that a ceiling fan can cool things down in the summer, but you might be surprised to find they can keep you warm, too. Look for a switch on your ceiling fan to reverse its spin from counterclockwise to clockwise. This pushes the warm air that gathers around the ceiling down to where it can do you some good, and can reduce your heating bill by up to 10 percent.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has worked as a technology consultant for many small businesses and was once a professional financial advisor. David has also has written hundreds of articles on money matters for newspapers, magazines and online publications.