Winter is coming, dear reader. Actually, for a lot of you, it may already be here. Along with it comes the return of heating bills. This time of year, it might seem like it would be cheaper to burn money for warmth, but you don’t have to resort to that to stay warm this season.
How to Use Less
The simplest way to save money on heating is to simply use less. 68 degrees is often cited as the magic number for efficiently balancing a tolerable temperature with a reasonable cost. But you could save more by turning down the thermostat even further for when you don’t expect to be active around the house for a few hours, like when you’re at work or asleep. You can save some serious percentage points on your bill by turning the heat down during these times, anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees, but it would be best not to do this every single time you leave the house. If you turn the heat all the way down to the 50s for anything less than a few hours before you kick it up again, the energy used to bring it back up to a livable temperature might negate any savings benefits.
You may think this is a good idea for when you go to work, but you might be hesitant to try it at night. “Sleep in a 50-something-degree room? I might as well sleep in a tent outside!” But it might not be as uncomfortable as you think if you’re willing to get cozy. Regardless of what temperature we sleep at, we always get colder throughout the night no matter what because of our lack of movement. So, if you get some heavier blankets and comforters and find some warmer nightclothes (don’t be afraid to wear socks to bed!), you might just find yourself warmer at night than before despite the cooler temperature.
If you’re willing, making the colder-living-space thing a ‘round-the-clock arrangement can save you even more. Go for it, wear a sweater around the house and use a blanket on the couch. Maybe don’t quite keep the place at 52 degrees all the time, but if you can keep comfortable in the upper-50s and low-60s, your wallet will appreciate it.
You can also minimize heat usage outside of the ventilation system itself. Look into whether you can wash your clothes at a cooler water temperature or turn your water heater down a few degrees; it could really add up your savings. If you really want to cut into your energy usage, you can even experiment with cooking styles by using appliances that use less energy like microwaves and toasters (or microwave-toasters) instead of ovens and stoves. Or you could even try different techniques to cook food more efficiently, like cutting it into smaller pieces to expand its surface area. If you’re strictly looking to reduce usage, you have plenty of options.
How to Lose Less
A more advanced step might be to start cutting energy waste in the first place. Some methods of doing this are easy, but others take some time and effort (and money) but would pay off in the long run.
First things first: if I were a guest in your house and I wanted to see where your heat physically comes from, the actual specific holes and grates that expel the air, would you have to move something to show me? Whether you have a classic radiator in a room or a centralized system with vents in the floor and ceiling, a lot of people simply neglect to give their heating systems room to breathe. If you have floor or wall vents, make sure they aren’t blocked behind pieces of furniture. If you have a radiator, make sure there isn’t junk piled on top of it. Heat that gets blocked is trapped and therefore wasted. If your heating implements have a clear path to heat the room, it’ll take less energy to do it. You may have been using more heat than you needed this whole time and you didn’t even know it.
Once the heat is in the room, you want to keep it there, and insulation is your friend. Walls, ceilings and floors should all have sufficient insulation to keep the warmth inside. That includes rugs and carpets! They aren’t just for show, they’re floor-based insulation in its purest form. If you have the ability to modify your living space, you should make sure you have enough insulation and you have it where you need it. If you cannot modify your living space, get in touch with someone who can. And if you have one of those old-fashioned radiators, take note whether they’re along an external wall because this can cause the heat to go through the wall and simply leave the building forever. Some retailers sell “reflectors” to combat this, but if you can’t or don’t want to get one, you can just put some aluminum foil between the radiator and the wall. It may sound absurd and look goofy, but this really does work to “reflect” the heat back into the room.
The most complicated obstacles for avoiding heat loss would probably be doors and windows. After all, they’re designed to let air and other things in and out when the weather’s nice, so they can’t just stop that when it’s not so nice.
Some simpler steps would be to simply ensure you’re not being careless. Lock your doors and windows to ensure they’re closed all the way; of course, they could always be drafty. In that event, you have options: you could spring for hiring a professional to reseal or replace your doors and windows; you could caulk the leak or taper over the glass; or you could roll up a towel or blanket and stuff it into the drafty edges of the frames. It all depends on how much you want to spend in the name of saving.
That said, don’t completely write off your doors and windows during the winter months. On the days when it’s still sunny out despite the cold, let all the light in you can, especially on the southern windows which face the winter sun (unless you’re reading this from the Southern Hemisphere, in which case… uh, hello down there, you guys focus on your northern windows for winter heat). The sun comes in to warm your home as the cold air gets kicked to the curb. Conversely, at night, keep your windows covered to make sure the heat doesn’t get out – draw your drapes, blinds and curtains, and if you have a radiator in front of your window, tuck the covers in.
…And Other Things You Can Do
If you just need more heat in your house but you’re hesitant to drive up the bill, you don’t have to rely on nature and your thermostat. You can use space heaters or humidifiers to warm up a specific area while you’re using it, and then turn them off when you’re done. There are other ways to spread the warmth that might seem eccentric, but are oddly intuitive. Just get out of the shower? Leave the bathroom door open afterwards and don’t use the exhaust fan. Just bake something? Leave the oven door open afterwards and don’t use the exhaust fan. Did you switch to fluorescent light bulbs to save on electricity specifically because they don’t give off heat like regular light bulbs do? Maybe experiment with switching back to incandescent bulbs for the season and turning the heat down. It might just work out in your favor. Speaking of bulbs, switch to LEDs for your holiday decorations. They’re more efficient and they last longer anyway.
Does your house have a chimney? If so, neat! I never knew anybody who lived in a house with an actual chimney when I was growing up. But if you do have this permanent direct path between the outside air and the inside of your house, look into a chimney balloon to plug it up. What about ceiling fans, does your house have those? Now those I’m familiar with. But did you know some ceiling fans can be switched to run in reverse, which with the shape of the blade actually pushes cold air up and hot air down? Science truly is magic.
If nothing else, bring in an expert if you can. Your energy provider may have energy auditors who can assess your home’s efficiency and may cover this service for a small fee or none at all. Also, some providers in some jurisdictions may not actually come to your residence to read the meter, instead opting to just guestimate your usage (under the guise of saving time and maintaining privacy) and charging you for that, which is rarely in your favor. Insist on getting a personal meter-reading for an accurate number so you aren’t overcharged.
In the end, it would not be fun to be both cold and broke this winter, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You now have the tools to maximize your bang for your buck when it comes to your heating bills. Part of it is not wasting energy, and part of it is deciding how much heat you actually need, but you can decipher what’s right for you and your wallet. Come to think of it, a fatter wallet would probably have an easier time staying warm in the winter itself.