Just because winter hits, doesn’t mean that our electric bills have to go sky high. The tips that follow will show you how to save on winter electric bills. Our electric bill hovers around $75-100 in the winter, and our house is medium-sized (9 rooms) and one level. We have friends who live in the same area, though, who have electric bills as high as $500 or $600! We live in Kentucky, which often experiences temperatures around 0. Last winter was a doozy, though, with 2-3 feet of snow and temperatures -0 F that lasted weeks. It was so bad that it was disaster status. The Red Cross brought communities water, and shelters were opened.
Follow these simple rules to make small adjustments and to identify and fix problem areas in your home that can add up to big savings while keeping you warm and cozy. Of course, there are other tricks we use to keep electric bills low, but I’ll talk about that in another post.
1. Get free heat from the sun.
Even when the temperature outside drops below freezing, you can still utilize free heat from the sun’s rays. Open your curtains during the day, especially on windows facing south (where you’ll get more sun). This will bring free heat inside. Close the curtains once the sun has gone down. Even better is to use insulated curtains to keep that warm air in and cold air out. As part of your yearly home maintenance checklist, you should make sure that tree branches and shrubs outside windows are trimmed so that they don’t block sunlight from getting inside.
2. Use your ceiling fans in the winter.
Homes are more energy efficient when the airflow is well ventilated. Many people only use ceiling fans when they’re warm during summer months, but they’re just as useful during winter to help with ventilation. Move the switch on the fan’s unit to make the blades mover clockwise during winter to trap heat inside and push the rising heat back down so that you can feel it. Make sure that you keep fans on a low setting. This can add up to a 15% savings! Once the weather starts to warm, move the switch so that blades mover counter-clockwise again.
3. Turn down the thermostat at night.
If you turn down your thermostat 10-15 for 8 hours every day, you’ll save around 10% each year on heating costs. Most people do this at night (especially since most people sleep in cooler temperatures). It’s is a myth that the furnace is forced to work harder warming up the house again, which costs as much or more than any saving you might have gained.
4. Use add-ons to stay warm.
If turning down the thermostat leaves you feeling chilled, use add-ons to stay warm. Put on a sweatshirt and fuzzy socks, and keep throws within arm’s reach. If you have hard floors that tend to get cold, use an area rug to trap more heat. Use flannel sheets and a heavy comforter on your bed. If you aren’t allergic, use comforters, pillows, and mattress toppers filled with down (duck or goose feathers). The more down an item contains, the more warmth you’ll feel.
A full or queen size down and feather comforter typically retails anywhere from $28 all the way up to over $1000; standard feather pillow $15-$900. I like a good quality pillow and comforter that comes at a good price and recommend Better Down Feather and Down Blend Pillow and Web Linens Down and Feather Comforter.
5. Close vents to rooms you don’t use.
If you have rooms in your house that are rarely or never used, don’t heat them. Think about the guest bedrooms and bathrooms, storage rooms, or craft room that you haven’t used in months. Close the vents so that the heat will only go into the rooms you actually use. Even though I use the laundry room, I never have heat flowing into it. And my husband works from home, but I close the vent to his office on weekends. Sometimes closed vents still let a little bit of air through. If that’s the case with you, try a cover. They’re magnetic and close vents up in a more airtight way.
6. Use a portable space heater.
If your family is like mine, we gather in living areas (kitchen, living room). Placing a space heater in those areas allows you to turn the thermostat down. That way, you aren’t heating rooms that are not in use. For every degree you turn down the thermostat, you’ll save 3%. If you keep your thermostat on 62°, you’ll save around $200 each year! The downside is that you have to purchase a space heater (which uses electricity), but I’ve found this to be cheaper. You can buy space heaters for as little as $30. Try this one by Duraflame. It’s safe to touch, so you don’t have to worry about kids and pets.
7. Keep your heating registers (vents) clear.
It’s easy for vents to become blocked, especially with kids and pets in the house who like to play. Periodically do a walk-through to make sure nothing is covering your vents. Make sure that your furniture doesn’t cover them, too. You’d might as well just close them off! I have a curtain that falls onto one of my vents in the living room, so I bought a deflector to redirect the air. There are also deflectors designed for use if your furniture covers vents.
8. Use a humidifier.
Did you know that dry air feels colder than moist air? Using a humidifier will help you feel warmer without having to touch the thermostat. House plants also help to add humidity (if you have a green thumb). The cost of humidifiers starts at around $30. Because they can be difficult to clean and keep bacteria at bay, I like this germ-free model.
9. Use LED holiday lights.
LED holiday lights use at 75% less energy, while lasting 25 times longer than incandescent lights.
10. Use exhaust fans sparingly.
Those exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen are helpful, but they suck the hot air out of your home. Remember that hot air rises, and the fans are in or near the ceiling. Use them only when you absolutely need to, then turn them off.
11. Keep doors and windows locked.
Locking windows and doors causes them to push closed tighter against weather stripping, preventing loss of warm air and cold air from entering. Make sure you lock windows early if you live in very cold climates to prevent them freezing in an unlocked position.
12. Make sure your home is well insulated.
Before I started renovating my house, it had little to no insulation. Let me tell you that investing in insulating your home will pay for itself in lower electric bills! You can purchase inexpensive insulation to place in attics, basements, and walls. Don’t forget to insulate the attic door; this is often overlooked, even in well-insulated attics. Use adhesive to fasten the fiberglass batt insulation to the attic side of the door. Install a latch bolt if the door is warped or won’t close flat to form a good seal.
13. Replace worn weather stripping.
If you aren’t ready for that (which can be a bit of work), then start with weather stripping. The average house loses 7-12% of its heat from drafts around doors and windows. If you can see light around your entry doors, you need weather stripping. Replace any weather stripping that looks or feels worn, and add new weather stripping if a door or window doesn’t have it. It’s easy to do (just tack it up), and this will allow you to keep from turning up the thermostat as much. It costs about $7 for a 10 foot roll.
14. Cover windows and patio doors with plastic film.
Up to 25% of heat is lost from windows and patio doors. If your windows and sliding doors are cold and not well-insulated, cover them with plastic. This will save you about 14% on heating costs. The plastic film only costs about less than $20 to do 10 windows. It’s easy to install, isn’t noticeable once it’s up, and comes off easily.
15. Adjust thresholds of entry doors.
If you can see light under your entry doors, then you’re losing heat, guaranteed! Look for several screws along your threshold (most have them) that will adjust the threshold’s height and eliminate any openings. Turning those screws counter-clockwise lifts the threshold higher. Just be careful to not raise it so high that the door sweep on the bottom of the door drags the floor, which will wear it out. The door also should be easy to open and close; if it isn’t, lower the threshold a bit.
16. Check for drafts around electrical boxes.
A lot of people notice drafts around the electrical boxes on external walls. This is usually because insulation is not always installed correctly around them the first time. If you feel drafts, remove the cover plate and fill small gaps with acrylic latex caulk. Fill large gaps with foam sealant. Then place a foam gasket (about $1 for a 2-pack) over the outlet and replace the cover plate.
17. Fill holes in exterior walls.
When cables, pipes, and other lines were installed, gaps around their entry points to your house were usually filled with caulk. The problem is that caulk will crack and crumble over time, letting in cold air (and mice or insects!). Fill any gaps with expanding foam. For pipes under the sink, you’ll first need to unscrew and pull back the escutcheon ring. Don’t worry – it’s only for decoration and won’t block any flow of air.
18. Block your unused chimney from airflow.
If you have a fireplace that you no longer use, you’re losing quite a bit of air through the chimney. You lose air even if you close the flue, so you want to block the chimney with an inflatable balloon that costs about $50. Even though there is some cost involved, they save you up to $100 each year. You simply inflate the balloon and stick it in the chimney. You don’t even have to worry about forgetting them there if you use the fireplace because it will automatically deflate. Your house won’t fill with smoke, but the balloons need to be replaced after repeated use. You need to find the size for your particular chimney, but this is a good listing that will get you started.
19. Repair ductwork rips and tears.
Take an inventory of ductwork in your attic, basement, or crawlspace and make repairs. Note tears in seams and corners, along with any areas that may have been damaged by rodents looking for warmth. Almost all houses will need some repairs, and 20-30% of air in vents is lost due to damage. Use duct tape to seal all damaged areas.
20. Keep your furnace and gas fireplace clean and maintained.
Keeping your furnace and vents properly maintained will reduce energy consumption and help you save. Check your furnace filter monthly, and replace it when it gets dirty. If it’s been a while, you might want to have a professional do a routine maintenance check for around $100. It will pay for itself in the long run. Keeping your gas fireplace well maintained will result in a larger flame that gives more heat.
21. Invest in a programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats are more inexpensive than in the past, and some models are as low as $25. One of the best thermostats on the market is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which costs around $250. While the price tag is a bit steep, there are rebates available on their website. The claim is that using the Nest will result in savings of up to 12% on heating and 15% on cooling. The Nest actually begins to learn your family’s patterns and makes predictions to save you money, which means you don’t have to adjust the thermostat yourself as often. If you’re a tech guru, you’ll like that it connects to wifi, and you can control it from your mobile devices!
- Set your water heater at 120° rather than the standard 140°. You probably won’t even notice – until you get your bill!.
- Always unplug devices (and holiday lights) before going to bed or leaving the house. They use power when they aren’t being used. If it makes it easier, connect multiple plugs into a surge protector so that you can turn multiple devices on or off at one time.
- Use the oven in the winter, and leave the door open afterwards. Let it heat your house! Use the grill in the summer to keep heat out.
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