A Few Tips to Save On Energy Bills This Winter

December 12, 2014


Everyone can benefit from a few well-placed suggestions on how to save energy this winter. Conserving heat doesn’t mean you have to rush out and buy all new high performance windows or rip the walls out to add insulation. There are quite a few sensible things you can do that cost very little money but can reduce you heating bill significantly.

Free or inexpensive things you can do.

Turn Down The Thermostat: I was at Home Depot the other day and noticed they had lots of programmable, internet connected “smart” thermostats available. Most of them cost around $250 or so. While it may be a great feeling to know you can control your thermostat with your cell phone, it is just as easy to get up off the couch, walk over to your thermostat, and turn it down a few degrees when you go to bed or when you plan to be away from home for a few hours. You’ll save money if you do.

Weatherstrip exterior doors: A 1/8″ air gap around a door is equivalent to drilling a 6″ hole in the side of your house. The more air you can keep from leaking in or leaking out around your doors, the lower your heating bills will be. Home Depot and Lowe’s carry a wide assortment of weather stripping products. Most are inexpensive and can be installed with simple hand tools.

Insulate around switch plates: The electrical boxes that your switches and outlets fit into often make an opening in your wall insulation that lets drafts and cold air inside. Just unscrew the switch plate or outlet cover and fit a foam insulating pad between it and the wall. Then screw it back on.

Bleed Your Radiators: If you have an older home with radiators, take a few moments to bleed any air trapped inside at least once a year. That air can interfere with the smooth passage of hot water through the radiator, which increases your heating bills.

Wash Your Windows: Heat from the sun is free and can add a lot of warmth to your home in the winter months. But if your windows are dirty, that solar heating will be reduced. Maximize how much heat you get from sun by washing your windows before winter sets in.

Clean Your Gutters: Blocked gutters and downspouts can cause water to back up under your roof leading to annoying leaks and expensive repairs. Get out the ladder and do it yourself or hire a strapping young lad from the neighborhood to do the job for you. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

More money, better results.

Ready to spend a little more money? Here are some tips that cost a few dollars but can have a dramatic effect on your heating bills.

Add insulation to the attic: Most houses have only 6″ of insulation in the attic. You can double or even triple that. Since 80% of all the heat lost from your home goes through the roof, this is an area where a little time and effort can pay big dividends. If you are not sure how to do it yourself, hire a professional insulation installer to do work. It is important to make sure that the new insulation does not block any soffit or ridge vents.

Add interior storm windows: If your house has older windows that are no longer weather tight, you can install an extra insulating pane from the inside and avoid the high cost of replacement windows. One product on the market is called the Indow and consists of a layer of flexible acrylic surrounded by a silicone seal. Just snap it into place when you need to. It can be easily removed when the weather turns warm next Spring.

Install a fireplace insert: A drafty fireplace can send almost 10% of the heat you pay for right up the chimney. Adding a fireplace insert cuts down on drafts and adds the ability to heat your home with wood. Be sure to compare models and prices. An inexpensive stove may be just as drafty as your old fireplace. Make sure it has a sealed firebox to keep smoke and carbon monoxide out of your living space. Better inserts are $2000 – $4000 installed.

Consider a pellet stove: Pellet stoves provide lots of heat and the pellets are an eco-friendly fuel. They all have a blower that distributes air throughout the house. Like fireplace inserts, there are good ones and not so good ones. As usually happens, you get what you pay for. Pellets are more convenient to store and move around than wood – there’s no cutting, splitting, or stacking involved. My wife and I have had a pellet stove for 4 years and we find our fuel oil usage has been cut by almost 2/3. That’s an investment that has more than paid off! Be sure to only use premium wood pellets. Some brands create enormous amounts of ash and can damage your stove.  Better pellet stoves are $2000 – $4000 installed

Okay. Congratulations. You have finished your pre-winter “save energy” checklist and are now ready to enjoy a cozy, draft free home environment from now until the swallows return to Capistrano.


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Stephen Hanley

lives in Rhode Island and writes about topics at the convergence of technology and ecology. You can follow him on Google + and Twitter.