Winter Energy Saving Tips

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible to save money on winter heating bills while sitting comfortably in the home. The two tenets – savings and comfort — are not mutually exclusive.

Winter can be harsh, but following several tips to reduce energy use in winter months will reduce the utility bill, either gas or electric.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that heating makes up 29% of your annual utility bill and costs more than any other system in your home. Just making a modest change in the thermostat setting during the day and then at night can save up to 10% of a heating bill.

The DOE also says a home energy assessment (or audit) can reveal several ways (in addition to adjusting the thermostat) to reduce heating bills by as much as 30%.

Energy costs are a large part of a monthly household expense. Reducing usage is key step toward saving money on energy bills.

Here are some tips to follow.

1. Use the Heat from the Sun During the Day

The Broadway musical Hair told us to “let the sunshine in.” Paying attention to your home related to the sun’s position can matter.

Opening curtains on south-facing windows in winter can let in more sunlight during the day and add warmth to the interior.

2. Close the Curtains at Night

Closing curtains in the cooler evening hours can keep colder air away, which means it’s worth investing in curtains that insulate.

It’s also a good idea to plant a deciduous tree on the south side of the home. These trees lose their leaves in winter, which allows sunlight to add warmth. But they keep their leaves in summer, which adds shade and helps keep the home cooler.

Mother Nature charges nothing for the service.

3. Adjust the Temperature

The thermostat is one major way to control heat heating bills. It is absolutely not necessary to keep the temperature at 72 degrees (or higher) in the winter.

The Department of Energy estimates that for every degree you lower the thermostat, you will save 3% of your energy bill.

Simply changing that thermostat to keep the temperature at 68 – it works, believe us – will save 12% on the energy bill (four degrees times 3 percent). Taking additional steps means saving more.

Recommended winter thermostat settings include:

  • 68 degrees during the day if someone is home
  • 65 if no one is home
  • 65 degrees at night
  • 60 degrees if you are on vacation

To some, the nighttime setting seems chilly. It’s not.

Some in Northeast Ohio, where winters are unsparing, keep their nighttime temperature at 62, or even 60. Blankets and comforters provide plenty of warmth to sleep.

There is an extra benefit to lowering temperatures at night: Sleeping at a lower temperature leads to better sleep.

The UCLA Sleep Disorders Center told that night settings between 70 and 75 lead to insomnia, while temperatures between 60 and 65 help a person fall asleep faster and sleep more comfortably.

Science even shows that cooler temperatures at night produce more natural melatonin, the hormone the brain produces that helps us sleep. A higher temperature also produces drier air, which dries nasal cavities. Cooler temperatures keep the nasal pathways clear.

Curling up in a cooler room under comfy covers isn’t just soothing, it’s healthy.

4. Get a Smart Thermostat

A smart thermostat won’t win Jeopardy, but it will help save money on heating bills. Smart thermostats can be set to different temperatures at different times. Some, like the Nest, combine with your cell phone to tell if nobody is home; once it detects an empty house it kicks the thermostat to a lower temperature.

Programming the thermostat is not difficult. It typically can be done on your phone, and settings can be programmed seven days a week. Gauge the times you are home and set the temperatures accordingly. Keep it cooler in the day if you are at work, a little warmer but not higher than 68 when you’re home watching Rudolph or the Grinch.

Also, gauge sleep patterns and set the temperature lower for those hours. If you get up at a set time each day, it’s easy to set the home to warm up before you jump in the shower and/or get dressed.

In the long run, the person who will look smart when using a smart thermostat is you. Especially when the utility bill arrives.

5. Close and seal doors and windows

Common sense. Don’t leave a window cracked in colder months. You’ll be spending money heating the outdoors.

If you have a drafty window or doorframe, it can be addressed with weather stripping or perhaps a sheet of plastic that seals around the window and stops the drafts. Those insulating curtains also help.

6. Wear Extra Clothes

We buy those stylish sweaters and hoodies for a reason. Use them indoors. There’s no reason not to.

One can easily warm up with an extra layer in winter. But if it’s ever too hot, reducing clothing will not make that much of a difference.

This is science. Extra layers help retain heat. Add in the fact it will save money month after month, and it’s too logical to ignore.

7. Use a Space Heater

The science on these portable devices has come a long way. One space heater can make a big difference in a bedroom, bathroom, or family room. However, they’re best used in closed spaces; they won’t heat entire homes. Use them wisely in rooms where they’re needed.

And by wisely it’s mandatory to follow safety rules. Don’t put them near curtains or bedding that can catch fire. Never use them with an extension cord. Make sure toddlers cannot get to the heating element. Be sure the electrical system in your home can handle what a space heater needs. Finally, never leave a space heater on all day or when you leave the room.

If shopping, it’s wise to look for one that shuts off automatically if the connection or the heating system overheats.

8. Switch to LED Lights

The arguments against LED bulbs and in favor of the old incandescent light bulbs are silly and specious.

LEDs are initially more expensive, but they are far more energy efficient and last longer, which means in the long run you’re saving money on energy bills and light bulbs.

At holiday time, it’s even wise to use LEDs for strings on the home or on the tree.

9. Lower your Water Temperature

Consider this a corollary to the lower thermostat principle: Keeping the water heater on the “warm” setting will provide plenty of hot water, reduce the cost to heat the water and avoid scalding when jumping in the shower.

It’s safer, and more efficient. And it matters because the water heater typically is the second highest source of energy use in the home.

When you set the temperature, the water heater stops heating when the water is at that temperature. It follows logically that setting the water temperature at 120 instead of 140 will be more efficient. It will also extend the life of the water heater itself by slowing mineral buildup and corrosion, according to the DOE.

10. Check Your HVAC System

Routine maintenance and inspections will keep your heating and cooling systems running at their best. While inspections typically are done by professionals, one thing we can all do is make sure we change the filter regularly. This prevents dust buildup and keeps the heating system running as efficiently as it can.

The DOE estimates that changing the filters regularly can save up to 15% on a utility bill, as compared to running the furnace with a dirty filter.

11. Be Smart When Doing Laundry

Many of us now have washing machines that allow us to set the amount of water used. For those who don’t it makes zero sense to wash three items of clothing in a washer full of water. Especially if the water is heated.

Clothes come out just fine in cold or room temperature water settings. Use those to save hot water costs. Then, adjust the amount of water needed with the size of the clothes pile you are washing.

Wasting water wastes money.

12. Unplug Unused Electronic Items and Devices

Unplugging unused electronic devices can result in energy savings. However, this is not a step we all will take.

It’s often easier for those who work at home to leave the computer on, but a basement television does not need to be plugged in if nobody is using it.. Putting that computer to a sleep setting, if it sits unused for 15 minutes, will help.

The best advice is to be smart about what is plugged in. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates items that are plugged in but not used cost each home about $165 per year.

If it’s not necessary – a refrigerator or stove is necessary – unplug it until you need it.

13. Use Rugs on Hard Floors

Hardwood floors are the rage nowadays, and they are beautiful. But they can be chilly in colder weather. Tile may be worse. Adding a throw rug or carpeting can function as a layer of insulation. It’s also another example of up-front spending paying off in the long run.

14. Leave the Oven Door Open After You Have Finished Cooking

If you’re using the oven to cook dinner or bake a dessert, just leave the door open and let the hot air escape and warm up the kitchen. This will help reduce the need for additional heat in the colder months.

» Learn More: How to Save on Heating Costs in an Apartment

Discover More Ways To Cut Your Household Expenses

Financial responsibility is a major part of all our lives. Spending within our means, not extending our credit card use to absurd levels, cutting back when necessary … all matter when it comes to saving money, or eliminating debt.

If burdensome debt is an anchor on your life, it may be wise to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor who can assess income and debt and to create a budget solution. One approach that could work for you is a debt management plan. A conversation with the credit counselor, which is free, will guide you the right way.

If you feel good about the overall financial picture and just want to cut costs, there are solutions and approaches that explain how to cut your expenses.

We also can find creative ways to save money, with several options available among the best ways to save money.

The first step for everyone is to make a budget. It’s not possible to see where money is going, and where it should go, without knowing where  you are spending. A budget will provide those details.

Combined, all approaches involve adjustments and common sense. But when common sense leads to real savings, the adjustments are well worth making.

About The Author

Pat McManamon

Pat McManamon has been a journalist for more than 25 years. His experience has mainly been in sports, but the world of athletics requires knowledge of business and economics. He also can balance a checkbook and keep track of investments with Quicken quite adeptly. McManamon’s experience includes covering the NFL for ESPN, LeBron James for the Akron Beacon Journal and AOL Fanhouse, and the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes for the Palm Beach Post.


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