Slash Your Heating Costs This Winter

Use these low-cost and no-cost ways to lower your heating bill, regardless of your heat source. Read on if you’d like to save 20% or more on your heating bills this winter.

The cost of heating your home — and your home office — could put a huge hole in your budget this winter whether you heat with oil, gas, or electric. Even if you get the best price for heating oil in your area, for instance, you might need to spend more than $5,000 to keep your home warm.

But there are steps you can take to potentially save you 20% or more on heating costs when those penetrating arctic winds start to blow. For those on limited budgets, there are many ways to lower heating bills that don’t cost a dime. There are also weatherization applications that require anywhere from a small to middling investment of cash, yet these applications will subsequently lower both energy consumption and future heating bills. Over time, these investments can be expected to more than pay for themselves.

Cost-Free Ways to Lower Heating Bills

  • Lower your thermostat. Try reducing your usual daytime temperature by at least one degree. For each lowered degree, you’ll save one to three percent off those heating bills. At night, turn down the thermostat to 60 degrees. It’s much healthier, you’ll feel better when you awaken, and you’ll save money. If you go away for a weekend or more, lower the thermostat to 55 degrees.
  • Run bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans less. Exhaust fans pull warm air out of the house and let in cooler air that will need to be heated. Use fans only when necessary.
  • If you have a service contract with a heating provider, it will usually include an annual check and tune-up of your heating system. Don’t rely on the company to contact you about scheduling this service. Be sure it’s performed annually before winter arrives; doing so can save up to 10% on heating bills.
  • Close the damper on your fireplace when not in use. If not, your chimney will draw warm air out of the room and create a draft.
  • Close off unused spaces (attic, garage, basement, spare bedrooms, storage areas, etc.) or heat only those rooms that you use. If your heating system has vents, close off heating vents in unused rooms.
  • If you have ceiling fans, reverse the switch so they blow upward toward the ceiling. The reverse air circulation promotes heating efficiency in the winter.
  • Reduce your hot water heater temperature to 115-120 degrees.
  • Keep blinds and drapes open on sun-exposed windows during the day. Close these same drapes at night to help impede the escape of heat.
  • Dust builds up on radiators and baseboard heating vents, and then reduces the amount of heat that can get into a room. Dust and vacuum these surfaces often.
  • Prune branches from trees and bushes that block the sun’s rays into your home. 
  • If possible, sign up for a budget plan with your heating provider. Although this will not reduce the actual yearly dollar amount, it will make your bill-paying more manageable when spread evenly over a 12-month period.
  • When you add energy-efficient items to your home, check for possible tax breaks or discounts on homeowner insurance policies.
  • Check with local utility companies for free energy audits. Certain energy-saving devices may also be provided and installed free of charge. Lower-income households typically qualify for these free products and services.

Lower heating costs with energy-saving devices and services

The following products and treatments require an investment in money but can be expected to more than pay for themselves over time with future reductions in consumption and costs.

  • Invest in a programmable thermostat that can be set to automatically turn down heat at designated times, such as at night or when you’re not at home.
  • Caulking and weather-stripping are relatively inexpensive and can save 5 to 30% on heating bills. Check for drafts, cracks, and gaps. Some areas where cool air can penetrate are window frames, around doors, wall- or window-mounted air conditioners, attic hatches, baseboards, switch plates, electrical outlets, and foundations For a great guide to locating air leaks, see the guide to detecting air leaks. In general, you’ll want to weather-strip between moving parts, like doors and their frames, and caulk between nonmoving parts, like window frames and walls.
  • Be sure to have adequate insulation in walls, ceilings, attics, and basements. Seal and insulate water pipes and warm air ducts in unheated spaced (For more information on insulation, go the same Department of Energy website, but click on “Insulation & Air Sealing” after you click on “consumers.”) 
  • Set your thermostat at a lower overall temperature, and use space heaters for one or a few frequently used rooms. Heaters can start fires, so be sure to keep them at least three feet from combustible items and turn them off before leaving a room or going to sleep. Supervise children and pets when using heaters.
  • In areas with colder climates, replace drafty single-pane windows, doors, and skylights with products designed for these climates, such as thermal and storm windows and doors.
  • When it’s time to replace that old furnace, replace it with a fuel-efficient model. When selecting a new furnace, look for one that has earned the Energy Star. These burners meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy, and use about 10% less energy than a standard burner.
  • If you don’t have a service contract, pay to have your furnace inspected and tuned on an annual basis. The savings in heating costs far exceed the service cost.
  • Replace your furnace’s air filter according to manufacturer’s directions, and your system will operate more efficiently.
  • A “draft stopper” effectively seals your fireplace from any heat loss, even more so than a closed damper. A draft stopper is an inflatable “pillow” that you insert into the flue, and its design allows for easy removal and reinsertion. A glass front or glass screen will also reduce fireplace heat loss.
  • Add a dryer vent seal to your clothes dryer vent opening, where heated air commonly pours out all winter long. Typical sheet metal flappers do not effectively seal against air leakage. A dryer vent seal stays closed unless the dryer is in use. 
  • Consider using an electric blanket in a cool bedroom; it’s much less expensive than heating your bedroom to a toasty temperature.
  • Install a low-flow shower head; it will use up to 50% less hot water.
  • Cover your water heater with an insulating jacket.

We can’t stop Old Man Winter from sending us frosty air and shivery snow this winter, but we can keep our furnaces efficiently running, our water pipes from freezing, and we can lower those big bills by 20 percent or more. With a little time, investment, and application of our cost-busting suggestions, both your home and your wallet will hopefully be a little more insulated and padded this winter.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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