While winter is host to some of the most festive and magical moments of the year, it can also be a strain on the pocketbook. Holiday spending isn’t the only expense associated with the chilliest months of the year as thermostats climb and energy bills spike, particularly in colder regions. The good news is there are many ways that may help you save on energy costs, reduce the winter wallet crunch and keep more money for holiday parties and presents (or for a vacation to the tropics).
Seal drafty doors and windows
One of the most common and effective tips for saving energy when the weather cools is sealing the little cracks and crevices that allow cold air to seep into your home (or allow warm air to slip out). The main offenders are doors and windows, which often aren’t properly sealed against the weather.
Luckily, this is a simple problem to remedy, especially for windows you don’t plan on opening until the first blooms of spring. Cover the entire window with a heavy plastic sheet or just tape the edges where you can feel cold air gusting. For doors, consider adding some weather stripping around the edges. It’s easy to install (generally self-adhesive) and cheap. Unlike a lot of cost-saving measures, you only have to set it up once, and it may help save you money for many seasons to come. It’s great for hotter months, too, when you’re trying to keep the summer swelter at bay and the air-conditioned air inside where it belongs.
For many of us, ceiling fans become a forgotten appliance when the winter chill blows in, but ignore them in the cold at your peril. Because warm air rises, it tends to pool near the ceiling before dissipating, meaning a lot of energy is bleeding through the upper portions of your home. A ceiling fan set to rotate clockwise can counteract this and pull warm air back down into the room so your heating system doesn’t have to work as hard.
This can also apply if you use a fireplace to heat your home. A good way to try and ensure all the warmth from the fire doesn’t disappear up the chimney is to close the doors in the affected room and open a window just a sliver so more of the warmth gets pulled into the room itself.
Let nature be your ally
The most cost-effective heating solution is the most universally available: the sun. Take advantage of nature’s bounty by leaving your curtains wide open when the sun is shining in and close them at night to help trap warm air inside.
Using heavier curtains during the winter months will be even more effective at preserving that precious warm air, and consider energy-efficient models anytime you’re replacing windows in your home. The National Fenestration Rating Council has comprehensive metrics for rating a window’s energy efficiency that you can review the next time you’re literally window shopping.
If you want to go that extra step, consider planting trees by the windows that get the most sun. They’ll let sunlight pour in during the winter months when they shed their leaves and provide welcome shade during the hottest parts of the summer.
Seal unused rooms
Speaking of closing doors, if you have guest or storage rooms or even a pantry or other area where you don’t spend a great deal of time, be sure to close them up in the winter months. If you have a central or distributed heating system, you can also close any vents that pipe warm air into those rooms. That way, air can be delivered to the rooms where you’re spending most of your time. If you own a fireplace, you should also ensure the damper is closed any time it’s not in use so warm air isn’t constantly escaping into the atmosphere.
Use the thermostat with care
Shaving just a few degrees off your thermostat setting can mean significant savings when the energy bill comes due. Consider dressing warmer or using heavier blankets to combat the cold, and turn off the heating system completely when no one’s home.
“One of the easiest ways to save on energy costs is to use a programmable thermostat. Utilize the scheduling feature so the house isn't as warm while you are gone and can start heating back up shortly before you return home,” said Elizabeth Kuerth, Marketing Director of Quality Comfort Home Services. “Utilize the scheduling feature so the house isn't as warm while you are gone and can start heating back up shortly before you return home. This is also useful if you prefer a lower temperature at night time or will be in a different part of the home at that time. All smart thermostats also have a vacation mode so if you are going out of town to visit family you can set the temperature lower for that period of time. If you happen to forget, most also have a phone app so you can make that temperature change remotely rather than paying for additional heat you don't need."
Modern smart thermostats allow you to create profiles so the house can start warming shortly before you arrive home from work or drop the temperature slightly at night if you prefer a cool room for sleeping. Don’t neglect the suite of energy saving settings if they’re available, or be a conscientious user if you’re working with an analog model, and you could shave tens or even hundreds of dollars off your bill over the course of the winter months.
Let your oven multitask
If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, make sure you’re taking advantage of all the intense heat your appliances are putting off. Leave the oven door open when you finish baking that last batch of holiday cookies, and the kitchen and adjoining rooms will be significantly warmer. Just be sure the oven is completely off and someone will be around to keep an eye on it. Even a toaster oven or similar device can essentially become a space heater if you leave the door ajar after you’re finished crisping up your leftovers.
Consider an energy assessment
If you’re the sort of person who likes to empower themselves with data, a home energy assessment is an excellent way to get a complete, granular picture of how and where your energy dollars are being spent. You can opt for a professional assessment, which will often include a lot of high-end equipment and more in-depth analysis, or you can follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s tutorial for conducting an energy audit yourself. Many providers like PSE&G also offer free assessments to customers. It’s not just an advantage during the winter, either—having that information at your fingertips can help you trim energy costs year-round.
Saving is simple
Saving money during the winter isn’t rocket science. As you can see, most of these tips are easy to implement and either completely free or quite cheap. “Most homeowners are aware that when winter arrives, their energy bills will go up”, said Trung Nguyen, Owner of KACExpress.com. “If you're concerned about the expense of your energy bill this winter, please refer to our top ideas for energy and heat saving this winter. Heating expenditures make up about half of the average home's energy costs and this is why It's crucial to maintain the efficiency of our heating appliances to max out their performance.”
While some, like an energy assessment, can be slightly more time intensive, the general rule of thumb is the more effort you apply upfront, the more money you end up saving in the long term.