By Bill Gassett
For some people winter is a wonderful season, filled with holiday cheer and plenty of activities that can only happen when the temperature drops. For others it is a season that causes a great deal of discomfort, one that can only be endured with the use of modern heating technology and plenty of hot toddies. But no matter how you happen to view the coldest season, one thing is certain – your energy bill is going to climb quite a bit as the weather cools.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to limit the damage to your wallet and to increase your overall comfort in the process. Here are some effective energy saving tips for winter, ones that might make the cold just a little more bearable. Use these Winter energy savings tips to not only bring down your bills but to make your home a safer and more enjoyable place to live.
Tips for Saving Energy This Winter:
Get a home energy audit This is one of the easiest ways to find out how well your home saves energy while keeping you comfortable. A professional energy audit will examine all aspects of your home to see how efficient its energy usage is using a variety of tools and techniques. The auditor will even examine your family’s energy usage and habits to determine how you can improve your energy usage. You can usually ask your local utility company where to find a reputable auditor. If you are lucky, your energy provider may even offer an audit for free. Another fantastic place to get energy saving tips this winter is visiting the Enbridge website.
Open the curtains during the day The windows that allow the most sunshine in should be left uncovered during the daytime hours. This will allow the sun’s energy to naturally warm your home and lower your need for your heating unit to kick in as often as it normally would. Just make sure to close the curtains after the sun goes down to help insulate the windows.
Insulate your windows You can increase the insulating properties of your windows in several ways. The first and most obvious is to install heavier insulating drapes that fit tightly to the window opening. You can also install a clear plastic film to create a tight seal to the window frame, creating a layer of air that will help with insulation. You can attach the film directly to the wall or frame, or you can create a wooden insert covered in plastic that fits tightly to the window frame. This removable frame makes it easy to take off the plastic when you need to and can be used again and again.
Seal leaks There are quite a few areas where warm air may escape from your home. There is no point in heating the outside air, so take some time and explore all the places where you can seal the home. The most obvious places are windows and doors. Apply weatherstripping or caulking around your windows and doors. You should also look for any place where pipes or cables enter into your home. Often these need to be sealed as well. This is why getting an energy audit is such a good idea. One of the things many energy companies will do for free during an audit is to seal the leaks in your home for you!
Lower the thermostat With a little experimentation, you should be able to find the lowest thermostat setting that allows you and your family to remain comfortable. If you wear warmer clothing inside you can keep the thermostat lower. You can also lower the thermostat by 5 to 10 degrees at night while you are sleeping or when you are out of your house for the day. Some heating specialist however recommend not dropping the temperature too low. The reason suggested is that everything in our homes absorbs heat including the furniture, accessories, walls, etc.
Clean and maintain your heating system Depending on what type of heating system you use, it should be possible to clean it yearly and replace the air filter to improve efficiency. You should also consider calling in an HVAC specialist to do an annual checkup on your heating system. A faulty or dirty system can cost you quite a bit of money during the colder winter months. If you have an oil heating system cleaning and maintenance become a must as they can get very dirty. You can also take years off the life of your system if it is not maintained on a yearly basis. A gas heating system should have a tune up every couple of years. Obviously a heating system is a major component in your home and when it is time to sell a buyer is going to be looking it over with a fine tooth comb. Your heating system can easily get flagged as a home inspection problem if it has not been maintained properly.
Take a close look at your fireplace While traditional fireplaces are fun to use and provide great atmosphere, they do need to be maintained properly and fitted with modern additions to actually provide efficient heat for your home. Make sure the chimney and fireplace are clean and sealed. Keep the flue closed when you are not using the fireplace. And if you want the fireplace to actually heat your home, you will need to install glass fireplace doors and an exchange system to push warm air into the home and pull cold air into the fireplace. Many people do not realize that a conventional brick fireplace may warm the room you are in but it will suck the heat out of the rest of your home making it feel colder in other areas.
Use LED lights for holiday decorations LED holiday lights use much less energy than the old strings of holiday lights everyone used to use. If you want to keep the house looking good for the season without breaking the bank, it is worthwhile to invest in some modern light strings. You can also set the lights on a timer so you don’t have to worry about them remaining on while the sun is up.
Have your hot water heater maintained Depending on where you live, your water may have certain minerals in it that can build up and lower the efficiency of your hot water heater over time. If it has been a few years since a specialist has looked at it, you may want to call one in. Heating water for the home uses a large portion of the energy on your utility bill, up to 25% in some cases. You can also lower the temperature setting of your water heater to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to save some money. It will still put out hot water, but not unbearably hot. Most home inspectors will recommend this as a proper temperature as well if you have young kids. Anything hotter than 120 degrees increases the risk of scalding.
Wrap the hot water heater Wrapping the water heater with insulation can also be a big energy saver especially during the winter. You can buy a water heater insulator kit at any Home Depot or Lowe’s. These blankets are really inexpensive and can save a decent amount of money. The payback on this item will only be 1-2 years given the savings on your electrical bill.
Consider additional insulation While your home may be insulated to a certain extent, you may be able to apply additional insulation in the attic, basement and external walls to increase the heat retention in your home. This may be something you want to bring in a professional for, although you can certainly do it yourself if you are so inclined. Modern insulation is pretty easy to install and an extra layer or two may save you a lot of money in heating bills over the life of the home.
Avoid blocking heating vents Furniture and toys have a way of drifting over vents through the course of the warmer months. Do a scan of your home to make sure all of the vents are unblocked and free to push warm air into the home. If you use a heating pump you should go outside and make sure the input is free from debris and grass.
Clean the refrigerator coils Once a year vacuuming the refrigerator coils is a must. If you have a pet it is even more important to do so as hair, dirt and debris can get caught in the coils creating a very inefficient appliance. These thing impede air flow and make heat transfer less efficient.
Put down some mulch in your flower beds If you have any plants you want to protect over the winter, such as roses, it can be helpful to put down a nice, thick layer of mulch in your flower beds. This will help the plants stay warm when the weather drops and it will help retain moisture as well. It will also make your landscaping look better even if the plants are dormant. While this is not a direct energy save for your home it will help you save a few bucks come Spring time in plants you might not need to replace.
Blow out your sprinkler system If you have yet to experience a freeze, you still have time to protect your sprinkler system from freezing and cracking. Call in a contractor to blow all the water left in the sprinkler system out for the winter. This doesn’t cost a lot of money and it can prevent a great deal of expensive damage when the temperature drops.
Replacing a roof before winter If you are going to be replacing your roof before the winter season consider one that is energy star rated. It will help protect our environment through superior energy efficiency.
Install a programmable thermostat If your house still has an old thermostat that you have to manually adjust you could be losing money on your heating bill. A programmable thermostat allows you to set what temperature you want during all hours. So you can tell the system to lower by 10 degrees at bed time every night or to begin heating the house a half hour before you get home from work. These are not terribly expensive and can be a really easy way to save a little money in heating costs. Again remember the temptation to saving energy in the winter could cause you to roll back your thermostat too much during times where you are not around. There is a fine line between dropping the temperature some and lowering it too much.
Consider a WiFi thermostat control Even better than a basic programmable thermostat, this new option allows you to control your thermostat from your smartphone. If you forget to lower the temperature before you leave for work, you can do it from your phone. You can also respond to sudden weather changes while you are out of the house. Some of these systems can even be used to control other things in the house, like lights and garage door openers. This is a great way to gain complete control over your home’s systems remotely and save energy in the process.
Purchase energy star products If you find that replacing appliances will happen sooner rather than later, consider energy star products. They are much more efficient and designed specifically to save energy. For example comparing a regular fridge to an energy star fridge could offers as much as a 20 percent savings in energy charges.
Unplug appliances not in use Ask any guy and they will tell you they love having their beer fridge down in the basement. If you are energy conscious and tight on money this is a definite way of bringing your Winter energy bill down. A second refrigerator takes quite a bit of energy to run. You will be able to lop off quite a bit just by unplugging this one appliance.
Replace standard bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs These bulbs are commonly referred to as CFL’s. I will be the first to admit I do not like these bulbs but if you are looking to save energy they will certainly do that. These kind of bulbs use 75% less energy and last around nine years. It is estimated you will save around $40 dollars for the life of the bulb. They can be put just about anywhere in your home including outside. If you are going to be selling your home there is no question that buyers are conscious regarding the energy consumption of your home. In fact one of the top question we get as a real estate sales representative is what the energy bills are for the homes we are marketing. Buyers consistently ask for records of prior heating and electricity bills. They do this to gauge the efficiency of your home and be able to budget for their own financial purposes. Buyers have a number of expenses when purchasing a home. Many buyers will look for homes that are not only pleasing to the eye but energy efficient as well. First time buyers will especially scrutinize these bills as many of them are on a tight budget. So while all these energy savings tips will help you in the short run when it comes time to sell they can reap additional benefits!
Additional energy saving resources • How to save energy in the fall and winter by HydroOne
• You may be able to reduce your energy use and save money—an audit will help you find out - by Enbridge
Use these additional energy saving resources to get the most out of lowering your energy bills this winter!