As we speak, I am wearing my fuzziest pair of socks, silk long johns underneath my fleece-lined jeans and not one but two sweatshirts. My husband is similarly dressed, while the baby is wearing his footie pajamas, not because he’s going to sleep any time soon, but because it’s the best way to keep him warm. My daughter is the lone outsider, wearing just a tutu because she is three years old and that is just how preschool girls behave.
If you can’t tell from that intro, my family is dressed for the winter weather – even though they’re inside our house.
I grew up outside Cleveland, Ohio, land of the endless winter. It wasn’t uncommon to see the first snowfall before Halloween and still see snow piles several yards high in early May. Despite the frigid weather, my mother – who must be part-reptile, based on her cold-bloodedness – routinely kept the thermostat at 64 degrees. I learned early that layers were a girl’s best friend.
Now that I’m in charge of the finances for my family, I’ve followed my mother’s example. I live about 500 miles south of my hometown, in an area that responds to snow as my daughter responds to the sight of a spider (that is to say, with unadulterated fear and panic). These milder winters alone justify my decision to keep our furnace running at a brisk 62 degrees. While my mother’s larger home and more severe winter climate requires her to use eight million BTUs (British thermal units, the standard measuring stick for energy consumption) a month, I can get away with using just 1.5 million BTUs monthly. Factor in my significantly shorter winter, and I use roughly 85 percent less energy heating my home.
But what if you don’t have the luxury of a mild climate? Here’s how to save money on your winter heating without having to double up on your fuzzy socks:
- Survey your home’s insulation and weather stripping. The government’s Energy Star website suggests piling R-38 insulation at least 10 to 14 inches deep in your attic; that means the floor joists in your attic should be buried underneath the insulation. Adding or repairing worn weather stripping along your doors and windows – as well as caulking any drafty areas around your window frames – helps reducing home heating costs as well. The result? Up to a 30 percent reduction in heating costs, according to Consumer Reports.
- Pay attention to your water heater. If you use a traditional water heater, the large tank has a huge amount of surface area. We use a heavy stadium blanket to wrap the tank, adding an extra layer of insulation. Also make sure to insulate any pipes that carry hot water to and within your home. Lower the temperature on your water heater from its maximum setting to 115 to 120 degrees; this is a good rule of thumb if you have young children in the house, as well, since the high setting on your water heater can produce water that can scald a child’s sensitive skin.
- Drop the temperature on your thermostat, too. You don’t have to go to the extremes that I do (even I will admit that 62 degrees is cold in the winter!), but even a few degrees can make a big difference. For every one degree you lower your thermostat, you’ll see a three percent drop in your winter heating costs, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Smart thermostats, which you can program to automatically lower the temperature after you go to sleep, will save you the hassle of manually changing the temperature as well as help you save money at home.
- Take advantage of mother nature. Even on the coldest of days, the glass storm door on my house heats up nicely thanks to the sun’s rays. While you may think you’re keeping the heat inside your home by closing your blinds and curtains, you’re actually depriving your home of a natural heat source. Just remember to close the blinds at night, when you won’t be able to reap the sun’s benefits.
- Take advantage of your natural gas or electricity company’s flexible billing options. A few months ago, my natural gas provider sent me a letter offering me the option to “lock in” my gas rates based on my previous year’s usage. It was a great option for my family: although last year was a pretty severe winter by southern standards, I had spent the entire season coping with hot flashes caused by my second pregnancy, meaning I kept the thermostat incredibly low. This year, with a new baby in the house, I knew I’d be more apt to raise the temperature. Now, I can raise the thermostat a few degrees on incredibly cold days without paying the price. I estimate I’ll save about 20 percent over the course of the winter.
- Maintain your furnace. It usually costs about $100 to have an HVAC professional come out and survey the furnace. Ideally, you should do this every year on older homes, but can get away with doing it just once every other year on new homes. During our annual inspection, Gus (our friendly inspector) caught an issue that could have taken down the entire unit if not repaired. Instead, Gus was able to fix it for just $60.
Of course, there are more time-consuming (and money-consuming) ways to reducing your home heating costs and save money at home. Upgrading single-pane windows to double-pane units with a low e-rating can cost you several hundred dollars per window – a great move if you’ll be in your home long enough to reap the ultimate savings, but not a great idea if you won’t be around long enough to benefit from the high up-front costs. You can also upgrade your furnace or water heater to a more efficient Energy Star model, but this is also a move that will cost a lot of money up front.
What are your favorite ways to save money at home during the winter? If you have any secrets to reducing your winter heating bill, I’d love to hear them!