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Energy Efficiency Tips for Winter

Your heating and cooling system is the biggest energy hog in your home, accounting for almost half your total energy costs. The money you spend on utilities rises dramatically in the summer and winter months when temperature controls see the highest use. Winter can be especially problematic, as heating costs are a matter of survival. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways you can reduce your heating costs and save money on your utility bill while still staying toasty in the winter.

The strategies that follow will help you save energy, save money, and stay comfortable during the cool fall and cold winter months. Some of the tips below are free and can be used daily to increase your savings; others are simple and inexpensive actions you can take to ensure maximum savings through the winter.

Find and Seal Leaks: Cold air can leak into the home through minor cracks and gaps in windows and doorways. Caulking and weatherstripping will usually pay for themselves in energy savings within a year. Use caulk for cracks and openings between stationary objects like door and window frames. You can use weatherstripping around anything that moves, like the door itself or window sashes. Also, seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. You should also circle your home with an easy-to-use spray foam insulation and look for openings and gaps around pipes, chimneys, lights, windows and basement brick and cement work.

Use a Well-Insulated Door: To check if a door provides good insulation, place your hand against it from the inside. If it feels cooler than the inside walls, it might be time to install a door that’s better insulated. Install fully insulated doors on all entrances to garages, cold storage rooms and uninsulated basements.

Close the Garage Door to Trap Heat: During the winter months, don’t forget to keep the garage door tightly closed as often as possible. In doing so, you’ll retain warmer air against the garage-side wall of the house, and it will act as a buffer against the colder outdoor air.

Cover Drafty Windows: If your home does not have energy-efficient windows, you can tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration. Afterward, you can also install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.

Reduce Heat Loss Through the Fireplace: If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed when it is not in use. Close the doors leading into the room when a fire is kindled and lower the thermostat temperature. If you never use the fireplace, plug and seal the flue.

Close Doors and Vents in Unused Rooms: If you have a room in your house that people rarely enter, you’re wasting valuable energy heating it in the wintertime. Close off all vents in the room and shut all doors. This will prevent you from paying to heat uninhabited space.

Reduce Water Heating Costs: Reduce the temperature of your water heater to 120F. Or consider installing a tankless water heater that heats water as needed, saving costs in the long run.

Consider a Programmable Thermostat: During cold weather, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable when you are at home during waking hours. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save 10% on your energy bill just by turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day. Turn down your thermostat when no one is home and when everyone is asleep. You’ll stay toasty warm under your thick blankets while saving money.

Replace Air Filters: Remember to replace air filters once a month. Dirty or clogged air filters force your heating system to work harder for proper airflow, using extra energy and raising costs.

Seal Your Ducts: Be sure to seal and insulate your air ducts, particularly any which travel through unheated space such as basement, attic, or crawlspace.

Use Space Heaters: If you only need to heat a small area, try using a space heater. Electric space heaters are a very energy-efficient way to stay warm because there is no heat loss through ducts or combustion. Space heaters are excellent for heating closed-off areas that you only occupy for shorter periods, like your garage or that bathroom that’s always colder than every other room in the house for some reason. However, when it comes to heating your entire house, space heaters are less efficient than a natural gas furnace or a heat pump.

Keep The Air Circulating: Everyone knows that ceiling fans are a great way to stay cool in the summer, but did you know that they can also help keep you warm in winter? Normally, ceiling fans rotate counterclockwise, pushing air down and producing a slight wind chill effect, allowing you to feel cooler. However, most ceiling fans have a reverse switch that will enable them to turn clockwise, producing an updraft and moving the warm air that collects near your ceiling down into the rest of the room.

Help Heat Flow Freely: Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging the furniture. If a large piece of furniture is directly blocking an air register, that corner will become very cozy with trapped heat, while the furnace labors to adequately warm the rest of the home. Also make sure the hot air isn’t blowing straight into a billowy curtain, resulting in major loss through the window glass. If your air ducts are full of dust and debris, a good cleaning will improve your system’s performance. If your system uses radiators, place aluminum foil between the radiator and any exterior wall to reflect more heat back into the room. This trick can work with any heating unit placed near (but not attached) to an exterior wall.

Raise Your Humidity: Here’s a surprising tip. Winter air is often parched, especially indoors. The seasonal increase in chapped lips and dry skin reveals that our home heating is sucking all the moisture out of our bodies — surprisingly, dryness makes the air feel colder, too. Not only do we feel colder in dry air, but adding some moisture will actually allow your indoor air to retain the heat longer. By increasing your home’s humidity to a comfortable level, you can make 68F feel as comfortable as 75F. Easy non-technological ways to increase humidity include adding (well-watered) houseplants, using indoor drying racks for laundry (adding to your savings by reducing dryer use), and placing shallow containers of water on heating elements such as radiators and wood stoves. Even leaving a water-filled baking dish in an unobtrusive spot such as on top of the refrigerator will help.

Take Advantage of Sunlight: Naturally heat your home by opening curtains on south-facing windows during the day. There is a reason the family cat likes to nap in sunbeams—the sun is a fantastic source of free heat. By opening your curtains and blinds during the daytime, you take advantage of the greenhouse effect and allow the sun to naturally heat your home. Just make sure you don’t forget to close your curtains at night to protect your home from losing heat through the windows.

After Using The Oven, Leave The Door Ajar: Heating your home entirely with your oven would be an impractical waste of energy. However, if you are using it anyway, there’s no sense in letting that heat go to waste. After taking dinner out of the oven, leave the door cracked open and allow that extra heat to escape and warm your kitchen.

Optimize Each Laundry Load: First, select the cold-water wash setting. Today’s washers and detergents do a great job of cleaning your clothes without requiring hot water. Even if you set your machine’s temperature to warm, it will use half the energy that washing in hot water requires. Also, wait until you have a full load before washing. Finally, with a front loader (which is much more efficient than a top loader), use the high-speed spin setting to remove more of the moisture from your clothes; this cuts down on the energy needed to dry them.

Get An Audit: Your utility company may offer free energy audits that can identify expensive energy losses in your basement, unfinished rooms, attics, and leaky ductwork. Sealing your ducts can give big savings on energy bills and help keep you from turning up the thermostat because of one cold room.

Use Energy-Efficient Holiday Lights: If you’re planning an elaborate Christmas light show this holiday season, consider using LED lights. LED lights are the most energy-efficient lighting option currently available. They use 75% less energy than standard incandescent lights and last 25 times longer. You’ll have to spend a little more upfront, but LEDs are so durable and long-lasting that your grandchildren could be using the very same string of lights 40 Christmases from now. They use so little electricity that 25 strings of holiday LEDs can be connected end-to-end without overloading a standard wall socket.

Energy savings isn’t just a wintertime activity. Many of these tips will save you money all year long. While you wouldn’t want to wear a thick sweater in front of a space heater in the summer heat, air stripping, insulated curtains, and smart thermostats work equally well in the summer. These techniques are just as capable of keeping your home cool in the summer as they are of keeping you warm in winter. Saving energy in wintertime really is a smart idea for year-round savings.


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