Winter is Coming and Your Window is Open: Saving Energy During Cold Months
Getting the most out of the energy you consume can save you significant money on your monthly utility bills. Heating and cooling your home use more energy than any other activity – typically about 35%–40% of your energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Unfortunately, too much of that energy and the money spent on it can be wasted. According to energy.gov (the DOE’s website), of the $2,000 the average American spends paying for energy annually, $200 to $400 could be lost due to drafts, air leaks around openings in the house and outdated heating and cooling systems. To me, this is like leaving a window open 24/7 all winter long.
Fortunately, it is possible to reduce your energy waste and utility bills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs (or an average of 11% on total energy costs) just by sealing openings in their homes and adding insulation.
Here are steps you can take to use less energy and keep more money.
Find the Sources of Your Problem
The first step is to figure out where you’re using energy and where savings are possible.
You can have a professional home energy audit done, which may be free or low-cost through your utility company. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has information on reputable individuals and companies who perform audits. Check with your state or local energy or weatherization office for contacts and recommendations.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, make the assessments on your own. Here’s how:
- Hold a lit incense bundle or stick near the windows and doors to test for air leaks. The smoke will tell you where the leaks are. You can also use a lit candle and watch the flame; just be careful not to light the curtains on fire!
- Check around your ceilings, lighting and plumbing fixtures, switches and electrical outlets. Look for gaps, improperly applied caulk and weather stripping, as well as doors and windows that don’t close tightly.
- Also, check the seams in your duct work to see if you are losing heat on its way to the rooms in your home.
Keep the Heat in
Once you have found your problem areas, you can use inexpensive products to seal the leaks. Many of the tips below come from energy.gov. Also, there are videos and guides with step-by-step instructions on YouTube and energy.gov on sealing windows and doors and other do-it-yourself energy conservation projects.
- Weather strip doors and windows.
- If the leak is under the door, put in a draft snake. If you haven’t heard of this, it is a fabric tube that you can place at the bottom of the door to block cold air from coming in underneath. You can purchase one from most discount stores, or you can get creative and make your own! There are many patterns online; some patterns are even no-sew.
- Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings and soffits over cabinets.
- Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
- Use foam sealant on larger gaps around window trims, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
- Check for open fireplace dampers, and make sure they properly close.
- Install tight-fitting window treatments, and look into purchasing thermal curtains for additional help in keeping the warmth in and the cold out. Thermal curtains are available almost everywhere curtains are sold.
- Open curtains on sunny winter days to give the furnace a break. Close them at night to protect against cold drafts.
- Consider adding insulation to your walls, attic, roof and foundation. A well-insulated home is crucial for reducing the heat flow in and out of your house. The DOE’s website and the Federal Trade Commission have information on types of insulation, tips on adding insulation and recommendations on where to add insulation.
Consume Less Energy for Heating
In addition to reducing the amount of heat leaving your house, use these tips to cut the use of heat inside your house.
- Switch to reverse: Heat rises, and you can push that warm air back down simply by flipping a switch on your ceiling fans. Run the fan on the lowest speed to move the air down slowly.
- Maintain your furnace: Keeping your furnace tuned and clean will help ensure it performs at its best. Replace the furnace filter once a month or as recommended. A clogged filter can make furnaces work significantly harder.
- Keep the rest of your heating system clean, too. Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.
- Get a programmable thermostat: We all know that turning down the thermostat while the house is empty can help save energy, but it can be hard to remember to turn down the heat as we scramble out the door in the morning. A programmable thermostat solves this problem. Set it to turn down when you normally leave the home and at bedtime. Set it to increase the heat in the morning when you get up so you can wake up to a warm home. If you are into technology, consider buying a smart thermostat. This device automatically adjusts the programmed settings, depending on your schedule.
- Be fashionably cozy: Dress for winter. Layering up and wearing sweaters lets you turn down the heat and still be comfortable. Each degree that you turn the heater down will generate 1% in energy savings, according to the DOE.
- Reduce water heating costs: According to the DOE’s energy saver guide, this is your second largest home energy expense — typically around 13% of your energy consumption. This guide suggests several ways to cut water heating costs: 1) Insulate your water heater tank and hot water pipes leading from it. 2) Set your water heater temperature to 120ºF, a temperature considered safe for most of the population. 3) Install aerating, low-flow faucets and showerheads.
I encourage you to try any or all of these tips. I know from personal experience that you will see savings. Who wouldn't want to cut their heating costs this winter?
Still have questions about saving money this winter or year-round? Give us a call at 877.577.2227 to set up a free, confidential phone or virtual appointment, or get your support online. We can assist you in creating a budget that will help you prepare for unexpected expenses all year long.
Author Ashley Hagelin is a Senior Program Manager and a Certified Financial Counselor for LSS Financial Counseling.