As the cost of heating homes goes higher and higher, many are scrambling for ways to stay warm yet have enough left over to buy groceries. Most homes are heated by natural gas, oil, or electricity, and the prices of these fuels continue to escalate. So how can you save money on heating bills?
Following are some helpful tips for saving both energy and money. All of these are relatively easy and inexpensive to set in motion. Additional methods, such as buying high-efficiency heating equipment and installing insulation, are pricy in the short term but more than pay you back in savings over the long haul. (For more about these, see the Heating & Furnaces and the links above right.)
Here are some low-cost measures you can take right away to save money on heating bills:
Put on a sweater
Yes, this one is obvious. But it’s important. By lowering the set-point of your thermostat 2 degrees, you can save about 6% of your energy costs over a 24-hour period.
Install a programmable thermostat
Programmable thermostats are inexpensive and easy to install. They allow you to fine-tune the operation of your heating system so that you don’t waste energy by running the system when heat isn’t required. You can set a programmable thermostat to turn the heat down to 61 degrees while you sleep, bring it up to 68 degrees a few minutes before you rise, turn it back down when you leave for work, and return it to a comfortable level just before you come home. Installing and using a programmable thermostat is one of the most effective steps you can take. (For more information, see How to Install a Programmable Thermostat.)
Don’t heat unused spaces
Leave doors open between heated spaces, but close doors to rooms that can be left unheated (you’ll need to close heating registers or turn off room heaters to stop the flow of heat to those rooms). Consider using magnetic vent covers to close off unneeded heating registers—these are both inexpensive and effective. Do not close off a room if it contains a thermostat that controls the heat in other parts of the house (it will be turning on the heat constantly in an effort to heat the cold room). If your ductwork system has dampers, adjust them so that the rooms needing heat the most will receive more heat and the rooms needing less heat will receive less.4
Maximize your furnace’s delivery of warmed air
Replace clogged filters with new furnace filters so air flows through the system without restriction. Have your furnace serviced yearly to keep it operating efficiently. Arrange furniture and drapes so they don’t restrict airflow.
Don’t waste energy through excess ventilation
Don’t overuse exhaust fans in bathrooms, the utility room, and the kitchen. When you need to expel the air from these rooms, do so. But then turn the fans off so that they don’t exhaust expensively heated room air. A great device that allows you to leave the room with the fan running but be assured that it will turn off automatically is a timer switch.
Let the sun shine in!
Open drapes or window shades that allow direct sunlight to stream in through windows on the south- and west-facing sides of the house (north of the equator). Where the sun does not shine in, leave drapes closed to minimize heat loss through windows. However, be aware that the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can fade floors and furnishings, so you may want to look into UV-blocking window films. (For more information, see How to Apply Window Film.)
Prune sun-blocking trees and large bushes
The trick here is not to cut down trees and bushes that will supply much-needed shade in the summer but to open them up so the sun can shine on the house in the winter. Deciduous trees and bushes are ideal because they allow the sun in during winter when they are bare of leaves but provide shade in the summer. Trees, fences, and other barriers that block the wind are helpful at reducing heat loss during the winter.8
Reduce heat loss through windows and doors
Be sure all windows, doors, and skylights are tightly sealed shut. Small leaks create drafts and allow expensively heated air to escape. The same is true with the fireplace damper—make sure it is closed (if your fireplace does not have a damper, investigate a chimney cap spark arrestor).
If possible, employ storm windows and doors. Use weatherstripping and caulking compound in a caulking gun to seal windows and doors. (For more information, see Door & Window Weatherstripping.)