20 Ways to Cut Down on your Energy Bills during Winter Months
Winter months wreak havoc on your home’s utility bills. Combined factors of earlier sunsets, colder temperatures, and spending more time indoors create the perfect storm when it comes to your overall energy usage. How and when you use your lights, heat your home, complete your household chores, and combat cold air all determine how large (or small) your monthly energy bill is. If you are looking to lower your monthly expenses, however, there are plenty of easy ways to make your home run more efficiently.
To keep your energy bills from soaring this winter, consider these 20 tactics. Each of them proves that a minimal change can dramatically alter your energy consumption, which benefits the environment as well as your household’s bottom line.
1. Update your Thermostat
Your thermostat is your home’s heating control center, so ensuring it is up to date is perhaps the most important thing you can do when it comes to controlling your home’s overall energy and heating costs. While standard thermostats may be able to do their job effectively, the new generation of programable thermostats prove to be incredibly intuitive devices that are constantly working to cut down on your overall heating costs.
Although a brand new programable thermostat requires an initial investment of installation time and money, it is definitely worth the cost when it comes to lowering your energy bills. Some of these intelligent devices even use movement monitors to determine your household’s unique schedule, allowing it to then adjust the temperature levels according to when people are home and when they are away. Similarly, they more effectively maintain consistent temperatures, ensuring you do not need to play “catch up” when you return home.
If that wasn’t enough, these new smart thermostats come complete with apps for added convenience. Easily accessed from your tablet or smartphone, you can wirelessly control the function of your thermostat even if you are away from home. This means that if you forget to lower your thermostat before leaving the house, you can lower it right from your mobile device. Convenient and intuitive, a brand-new thermostat is a great first step when it comes to optimizing the heating levels within your home.
2. Monitor your Furnace
How efficiently your furnace runs also makes a huge difference when it comes to your overall energy bill. To begin, choosing the right furnace filter is of the utmost importance. There are a variety of filters on the market to choose from, and most residential furnace filters feature a minimum efficiency reporting value that ranges from 1 to 16. High-efficiency furnace filters may seem like the most cost effective solution to high heating bills, but that is not always the case.
While high-efficiency filters (those with a minimum efficiency reporting value of 12 or above) capture 99% of unwanted airborne particles, they also require your furnace fan to continuously run on high to maximize their filtration. This can then lead to increased energy bills. No matter which filter you decide upon, frequently replacing it is key to maintaining an energy efficient household. Studies show that cleaning your furnace filter at least every 2 months can lower your bill by an average of 50%.
Never switch to a new or different grade of furnace filter until you talk to a HVAC specialist. In fact, calling an expert to perform routine maintenance on your furnace when the weather starts to cool is an incredible idea. Not only can a routine inspection ensure that your furnace runs at optimal levels all winter long, professionals also check for leaks in your air ducts, general electrical issues, and more. A routine inspection is almost always more cost-effective than emergency repairs down the road. Not to mention, experts can determine and personally recommend which furnace filter will save you the most money during colder months.
3. Properly Insulate Your Home
Proper insulation is key when it comes to keeping your energy bills as low as possible. If you find that your furnace is working extra hard and your home is not reaching optimal temperature levels, it could be that the walls within your home are not properly insulated. If you did not build your home or install insulation yourself, it never hurts to check that your interior walls include layers of insulation between the drywall. While there are several ways to check on this yourself, a trained professional can also let you know where and how well your interior walls are insulated.
Generally, the insulation in your attic is the most important. Because heat rises, an improperly insulated attic can be extremely detrimental when it comes to heating your home during colder months. Properly insulating your attic can lead to a 10% savings in your energy bill overall, as it helps you better maintain a consistent temperature throughout the entirety of your house. Not only can it lead to increased energy savings, it also protects your home from dangerous ice dams that can form in the winter, especially when combined with proper air sealing.
In addition to insulating your attic and interior walls, there are other important places where proper insulation is key. The basement is an important place to install insulation, especially if you have a finished area where you plan on spending time in the winter. Similarly, insulating pipes and even your water heater will ensure that they do not get damaged due to extremely cold temperatures. Installing insulation can be a difficult process to take on yourself, so consider hiring an expert contractor if you feel like it is outside your skill set.
4. Ensure Your Windows are up to Date
The age and quality of your home’s windows are a huge factor when it comes to your overall energy bill. Every window provides another opportunity for heat to escape and cold air to enter your home. Houses that feature older or damaged windows are undoubtedly more susceptible to heat loss. Replacing your home’s windows can be a large process to undertake, however, it is an incredibly important step when it comes to safeguarding your home against the cold and lowering your energy bill when temperatures start to drop.
While brand new, properly installed windows are great, installing energy-efficient windows is an even better way to ensure your home maintains consistent temperatures. These special models are generally better insulated and act as a more secure barrier against drafts or cold spots within your home. Additionally, they include a special coating that blocks the sun’s UV rays, making areas in your home less vulnerable to sun fading overtime. While energy-efficient windows are more expensive that standard windows, tax credits are often available when you go the energy efficient route. If your windows are damaged or already need replacing, choosing energy-efficient models is a smart investment that will lead to lower energy bills every single winter.
5. Place Plastic on your Windows
In addition to having windows that are properly installed, placing plastic over your windows is an easy way to ensure precious heat does not escape during winter months. An easy do-it-yourself project, kits can easily be purchased at your local home improvement store and provide you all the tools you need to give your windows an extra layer of insulation. Not only are plastic window coverings inexpensive, they also reduce drafts, reduce condensation from forming on your window panes, and help your house feel warmer overall.
While sealing your windows is an easy and important step, don’t forget to also extend the plastic over the window frames. By extending the plastic over the woodwork, you are further eliminating drafts and taking another important step when it comes to insulating your home. This ensures warm air stays inside and doesn’t escape through any part of your window or window frame.
6. Optimize Entrances
Just like windows, your home’s main entrances are places where hot air can easily escape. Any exterior facing door should be carefully inspected and maintained to ensure that it is not allowing frigid air to seep in during winter months. If you have drafty doorways, luckily there is an easy solution. Installing door sweeps to the bottom of your doors is a DIY way to further insulate your home from winter’s harsh conditions. Sold at nearly all home improvement stores, these flexible plastic strips adhere to the bottom of your door and negate any space that might be allowing cold air to enter your home.
Installing weather stripping is another cheap and easy way to ensure your doors are properly winterized. Sold in rolls, simply stick these thick pieces of tape the entirety of your door frame to ensure that every inch is sealed and secure. Weather stripping is easy to install and easy to remove, making it a great solution when it comes to lowering your energy bills. In fact, proper weather stripping can make your home nearly 20% more energy efficient overall.
While exterior doors are the most common cause of drafty conditions, doors to cold, damp areas like attics, basements, or garages may also be contributing to cold conditions within your home and making your furnace work overtime to correct the issue. Consider installing door sweeps, weather stripping, or draft guards on these interior doors as well to ensure cold air remains out of your main living spaces.
7. Seal Heating Ducts
Your home air duct system is an important component of your house. Unfortunately, air ducts that leak can unnecessarily add hundreds of dollars on to your energy bill throughout the year. To ensure you are not throwing this money down the drain, inspecting and sealing your heating ducts is key.
Typically manufactured from fiberglass or sheet metal, this system of tubes run behind the scenes of your home and transfer warm air from your furnace to each individual room in your house. Begin the sealing process by visually inspecting your duct system to see if there are any obvious punctures or if any areas have become disjointed over time. If holes or gaps are less than ¼” in size, you can purchase duct mastic, butyl tape, or foil tape to seal seams and joints. Keep in mind, insulating your ducts in areas like an attic or basement will lower their temperatures, which may cause pipes to burst if the pipes are not also insulated.
If you are at all unsure, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to inspect your ducts for gaps, leaks, or damage. They will also repair places where warm air is escaping. Similarly, they can take measures to prevent moisture condensation from damaging your drywall and help you install a carbon monoxide monitor, which can potentially save your family’s life.
8. Utilize Natural Light
Even during winter months, the sun is an incredible source of free heat. There are plenty of easy ways to utilize this completely cost-free natural resource when it comes to heating your home. Even when temperatures are extremely frigid, the sun can heat your interior spaces when it shines. During sunny, cloudless days, open your blinds and allow the sun to stream in to your interiors. This will not only provide your home with beautiful natural light – meaning you can turn off your electric lights – it will also raise the temperature within your home by at least a few degrees.
When the sun starts to set, be sure to close your drapes in order to reduce overall heat loss. Heavy drapes are a great idea to have in your home for exactly this reason. Not only will heavy fabric curtains reduce cold air from entering your home, they also help retain the heat that was gained during the day. Investing in a good pair of drapes will help you when using the sun’s rays to warm your home’s interiors.
9. Switch to LED Lightbulbs
Because the sun sets early during colder months, plenty of electricity is used to light up your home. The increased amount of electricity used to illuminate your interiors unfortunately also leads to your energy bill being more expensive during winter months than any other time of year. An easy way to combat this problem is by switching all of the lightbulbs in your home to energy efficient LED models.
When they were first introduced to the public, LED lights were expensive and fraught with problems that were undesirable to homeowners. Advances in technology, however, have led to LED bulbs becoming an affordable way to save money on your electrical bills. Now incredibly affordable, these lights last longer than traditional light bulbs and greatly drive down household energy costs. Studies have shown that in the typical home, switching to energy efficient LED bulbs can save nearly $10 per month. While this seems small, it totals up to over $1,000 in savings over a 10-year period.
Just like interior and exterior lights should be replaced with energy efficient LED models, so too should the lights in your holiday decorations. If you have been using the same strands of Christmas lights to decorate your home for years, chances are they are not as energy efficient as newer LED models. If you want to create a bright, festive home but also want to reduce your energy costs, consider replacing your old decorations with more affordable models that utilize less energy while in use.
10. Install Dimmer Switches
To further combat the amount of money you spend on electricity, consider replacing your home’s light switches with convenient dimmer switches. Not only do they create beautiful, ambient lighting, they also cut down on the amount of energy used to illuminate your living spaces.
Dimmer switches can be easily found at your local home appliance store and are relatively easy to install. These switches work with all of the existing lights in your home and allow you to perfectly customize light levels. Encourage your family members to set your lights on a lower setting at all times so that less energy is being used throughout the day. Your family should also get into the habit of turning off lights within your home once they leave a room so that electricity isn’t unnecessarily being used.
Along with dimmer switches, you can also find switches that include built-in timers. Available for both interior and exterior light sources, these special switches allow you to set a timer. This ensures that after a set amount of time, your lights automatically extinguish, ensuring that lights are not left burning all through the night.
11. Optimize your Fans
While fans seem like items that are primarily used in Summer, they can also greatly aid in keeping your home warm during colder months. Ceiling fans do more than just cool rooms down – they also effectively circulate air throughout a room. Switching your fan to a clockwise direction pushes air up towards the ceiling, which allows them to circulate heat rather than blowing air on you as they do during warmer months.
By setting your fans to a clockwise direction, hot air is drawn towards the ceiling, pushed out towards the walls, and then redistributed throughout the room. This process repeats with every fan circulation until eventually your room reaches a warmer temperature. Experts have concluded that homeowners can save up to 15% on their heating bill by controlling their home’s airflow via ceiling fans, especially when those fans are energy efficient models.
In addition to ceiling fans being important to consider, so too are exhaust fans. Typically located in kitchens and bathrooms, exhaust fans effectively pull air out of the room. Because of their location at the ceiling, the air being drawn out when in use is typically the warm air that collects at the room’s highest point. It’s for this reason that exhaust fans should be used thoughtfully and sparingly, as running them for too long will deplete your home of warm air and make your heater work extra hard.
12. Monitor your Home’s Humidity Levels
Monitoring the humidity levels within your home is important year-round. Humidity relates to the level of moisture present within your home’s air. If your humidity levels are too high or too low, you are leaving your home more susceptible to structural damage and your family members more susceptible to airborne bacteria that cause the flu and common cold. Not to mention, an optimal level of moisture in your air feels warmer and more effectively retains heat, allowing you to lower the temperature of your thermostat while still feeling comfortable.
During the winter, air tends to lose its moisture, which is why dry, flakey, and itchy skin is so common during colder months. While a range of 30% - 60% humidity is enough for your home to remain comfortable, a level between 45% and 55% humidity is optimal. Levels under 30% lead to dangerous and uncomfortable living conditions.
To increase the humidity levels within your home, a humidifier is an easy addition. These convenient and portable devices release moisture into the air while also monitoring the humidity levels within your home. Adding live houseplants is another way to increase the moisture within you air, leaving you with healthy air that is safe to breathe and feels warmer overall.
13. Minimize Living Spaces
Larger houses with many rooms and high ceilings are more difficult to heat. While it may sound like a simple solution, cutting down on the amount of living spaces you need to heat within your home will greatly reduce your overall energy costs.
Encourage family members to watch television in main living spaces only rather than watching in different rooms throughout the house. Alternatively, work in a shared living space rather than a designated office, have children share a bedroom, or agree to utilize a minimum number of bathrooms within your home. There are plenty of ways to get creative and find ways that encourage your family to minimize the number of rooms they occupy during colder months.
Once you have decided that certain rooms will not be in use, you can close their heating ducts so that precious money is not wasted heating rooms that are not being used. Similarly, basements are notoriously difficult to heat. Encourage family members to consider basement rec-rooms off limits so that you do not have to endlessly try to heat a cold basement. Not to mention, this will encourage your family to spend more time together and make more memories.
14. Commit to a Household Schedule
one of the easiest ways to lower your energy bill this winter is to take your household schedule into consideration. If you and your family members are consistently gone during certain periods during the day, you can lower your thermostat so that you are not keeping your home unnecessarily warm during periods when you are not at home.
Similarly, lowering the temperature of your thermostat when you are sleeping is another great way to cut down on energy costs. Because the amount of electricity needed to light your home during the winter increases because of earlier sunsets, consider altering your sleeping schedule. Being “early to bed and early to rise” is not only beneficial, it also can cut down on your electricity bill during colder months.
Keep in mind, however, that a certain amount of heat is necessary to keep your home at a livable condition. Having the temperature too low or the heat entirely turned off within your home when you are away can create a dangerous living conditions for your pets and can cause pipes to freeze after extended periods of time. According to research, when you are away from home you should set your thermostat between 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature within your home should never be lower than 50-degrees Fahrenheit for safety reasons.
15. Bundle Up When Indoors
This may seem like an obvious tip, but it is one that truly makes a huge difference when it comes to the cost of your energy bill. While having a warm home during winter months is incredibly important, you should always be realistic about the temperature that your thermostat is set at. Lower temperatures mean less energy expended to keep your living spaces warm, so sometimes sacrificing a couple degrees can make a large difference when it comes to monthly expenses.
Winter is the perfect time to bundle up, so don’t be afraid to bundle up indoors as well. Wearing lots of layers makes it easy to stay warm inside of your home without your furnace having to do all the work. Accessorizing your living spaces with toasty blankets is another way to ensure everyone stays plenty warm even when your thermostat is at a lower setting. Drinking hot chocolate, coffee, or tea also warms you from the inside out without having to increase your household budget.
Lowering your house’s temperature at night is the perfect way to save money without even noticing it. Add another blanket to your bed, switch to a thicker duvet, or purchase flannel sheets to create an extra warm, insulated bed. That way, you can keep your home cooler while you sleep and you will never know the difference.
16. Monitor Overall Water Use
Most people don’t take time to examine how to cut down on their overall water usage. Unfortunately, this leads to hundreds of gallons of water being wasted every single year in households across the country. Wasting water, however, is one of the easiest ways to run up your utility bill each month. Although it takes a bit of foresight and planning, it is relatively easy to alter your habits so that money isn’t literally going down your drain.
Consciously thinking about your household’s water usage is the first step towards changing it. There are plenty of times that faucets are unconsciously and unnecessarily used. Turning the water off while brushing your teeth, for example, is an easy way to cut down on water usage. Filling your sink with a few inches of water rather than having a faucet running while shaving is another easy change that can conserve gallons of water over time.
Showering is another time where gallons of water are unnecessarily wasted. If you find yourself running your shower until the water reaches an optimal temperature before entering, you are wasting a large amount of water every single day. Combat this problem by installing a tankless water heater within your home. This will cause your water to heat up faster, ensuring that less water is washed down your drain every time you clean up. A low-flow shower head also will conserve the amount of water used while you are in the shower.
Once you have committed to changing your family’s water usage habits, it’s also important to ensure that water is not escaping through leaky pipes. While dripping faucets may seem like a minor annoyance, all of those water droplets add up over time. Fixing or replacing your faucets in the kitchen or bathrooms will ensure that you never have to worry about water escaping when they are not in use.
Similarly, replacing your faucet’s aerator is a small way to save big money on your utility bills. Located in the tip of your faucet head, water aerators are small mesh screens that add air to the water stream released from your faucet. Water saving aerators release .5 gallons per minute, which is vastly less than standard aerators, which release approximately 2.2 gallons per minute. By replacing your household’s aerators, you can save nearly 75% more water and will barely notice the difference.
17. Control Water Use in Kitchen
The kitchen is another place where plenty of water get wasted. While water is a necessary part of keeping your home and dishes clean, there are a few money saving ways to ensure that your water bills aren’t a huge household expense.
Studies have shown that using a dishwasher is typically more efficient than washing all of your dishes by hand. With that said, it is important to use your dishwasher properly so that it is not causing a strain on your water usage. Before running your dishwasher, make sure that it is completely full. Not only will this result in running your dishwasher less, research has also proven that dishwashers are more water and energy efficient when they are at capacity.
Another place where your dishwasher uses unnecessary energy is through heat. Most of the energy this appliance consumes is used to heat water, so see if your dishwasher has a low temperature setting to increase its efficiency. Additionally, the “Heated Dry” feature expends lots of unnecessary energy. Turn off this setting to reduce the amount of energy your dishwasher utilizes while in use.
While it may seem small, conserving unused cooking water can also make a big difference when it comes to lowering your water bill over time. Use excess water or unused drinking water to water your plants, wash your car, or clean off patios and deck spaces.
18. Optimize Major Appliances
To ensure that your major appliances aren’t using an exorbitant amount of energy each month, it is important to optimize their usage and ensure that they are in proper working order. Your refrigerator and freezer are two main appliances that can potentially waste energy.
If you are looking to replace your current refrigerator, consider purchasing one that has been ENERGY STAR Certified. These energy-efficient models not only include better compressors, they also are properly insulated and include more intuitive temperature controls. If you are committed to an older model, consider cleaning or replacing its condenser coil so that utilizes less energy unnecessarily.
Perhaps the easiest way to optimize your refrigerator is to keep it fully stocked with food at all times. While this may sound like a solution that is too good to be true, doing so acts as insulation and keeps the interior of your freezer or refrigerator cooler while requiring less energy to do so. Even though your fridge should be fully stocked, you should never stand around with the door open. Minimizing the amount of time the doors are open ensures that it doesn’t expend energy to maintain an consistent temperature. Being thoughtful about your trips to the fridge can go a long way.
19. Thoughtful Laundry Practices
Just like the kitchen, the laundry room is a place where energy and water are consistently used and consistently wasted. Washing machines use large amounts of water each day and Dryers utilize plenty of energy while in use. However, a thoughtful approach to your laundry practices will leave you with a more affordable energy bill during colder months.
Depending on the age of your washing machine, a new, energy efficient model may be an excellent investment that will lower your energy usage every single month. Just like refrigerators, a new generation of ENERGY STAR certified washing machines include a variety of money-saving ways to reduce your energy bill. These machines not only utilize less hot water during each cycle, they also remove as much water as possible from your clothing during the spin cycle so that they require less time in the dryer.
With that said, there are other, more simple way to cut down on your washing machine’s energy costs. Washing more loads in a cold cycle will reduce the amount of warm water required to clean your clothing. Also, re-wearing clothing as much as possible in the winter will save water, put less wear and tear on your machine, and help conserve energy consumption.
When it comes to drying your clothing, standard dryers contribute to your energy bills in a big way. By drying two loads of laundry in a row, you are requiring your dryer to heat up less because it is already warm from the first load. Immediately removing clothing from your dryer will also ensure you don’t need to run your dryer multiple times to remove unwanted wrinkles.
While you should already be regularly cleaning your lint filter, it is especially important during winter months when you are looking to cut down on your household energy bill. A dirty filter not only poses a fire hazard, studies have also shown that a clogged filter can increase your dryer’s energy usage by as much as 30 percent.
20. Consider a Fireplace
Fireplaces are not only beautiful additions to your home, they also can help lower your heating bills during colder months. Before furnaces and heating ducts kept homes hospitable during winter months, wood burning fireplaces added warmth to cold interiors. The same rules still apply when it comes to contemporary fire places. Curling up in front of a fire each night allows you to lower your thermostat when you are relaxing in your home, allowing you to keep your energy bills at an all-time low. Not to mention, they are splendid, soothing, and pleasing to look at.
If you have a fireplace, however, be sure to close the flue is closed when the fireplace is not in use. Keeping it open can cause cold air to enter your home and subsequently allow warm air to escape as it rises upward. Pre-season cleanings and proper maintenance also ensures that your fireplace is a source of comfort – rather than an annoyance – during cold weather months.
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