4 Ways to Save on Winter Energy Costs
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Across the seasons of the year, it costs a lot to keep your home temperate.
The typical family in the U.S. spends at least $2,200 a year on energy bills, with the majority of that amount going toward heating and cooling. Space heating (42%) and water heating (18%) account for 60% of the typical household’s utility bills, with natural gas and electricity accounting for the largest sources of energy for heating homes.
While it’s impossible to lower the cost of gas or drop electric rates, you can better control your winter energy costs by spending a little up front to get better long-term results.
1. Buy a portable heater and turn down the furnace.
If you’re like most Americans, you spend most of your time in one or two rooms — be it the kitchen and den after work and school, or a home office if you work remotely.
But, like most, your home heating system heats the house at the same rate, regardless of where you are at the time. While some residences have zones that allow for the heating of the upstairs, for example, without fueling the downstairs, few have the ability to heat a room at a time.
Enter the portable heater. These units can be scaled to the size of the room, and allow you to stay warm while reducing your winter energy costs, provided that you are only using it to heat one or two rooms. The Department of Energy advises consumers to buy newer models outfitted with current safety features and to choose a thermostatically controlled unit, which won’t overheat the room it’s in.
2. Invest in a programmable thermostat.
If a space heater isn’t your thing, any number of so-called “smart” thermostats might be. That’s because they offer a host of benefits regular thermostats don’t, including helping control the heating and cooling your home from afar, so you don’t have to inefficiently raise the heat or A/C when you get home from work.
A smart thermostat can monitor your usage patterns so that it aligns itself with them when you aren’t paying attention, saving you money in the process. Some even show you how much money you’d save on winter energy costs by tweaking the temperature settings. These thermostats cost upward of $500, depending on the model you choose, but if you plan on using them for a long time, over time your investment will pay off.
3. Tune up your furnace and gas fireplace.
You may be tempted to go another season leaving your heating units “as is.” Don’t. By hiring a professional to tune them up (often for as little as $100), you’ll help ensure you spot air duct leaks and mechanical and electronic issues and you’ll be more likely to identify needed repairs, which will allow you to avoid costly emergency service calls.
4. Upgrade windows to those that are energy-efficient.
Drafts are a fact of life, especially in homes that are aging. By investing in Energy Star windows, skylights and doors, you can crack down on 20% of the outside air that infiltrates your home, according to the Department of Energy. Adding storm windows alone can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50%, which in turn helps reduce winter energy costs.
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Appliances should also follow suit. Replacing your water heater with an energy-efficient tank water heater, or an on-demand tankless water heater, should cut down on this expense. Upgrading kitchen appliances is also a wise investment: An Energy Star refrigerator uses 50% less energy than a refrigerator manufactured 15 years ago and 15% less than refrigerators that do not carry the Energy Star certification.