Saving on winter heat

It’s wintertime, and the heat bills are soaring – especially for those of you in the frozen upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S., or in Europe.

Heating time is big business: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American home will spend $990 on heating this year.  Here are some tips on saving energy in the wintertime courtesy of – with some extra notes on what we do.

1)    Protect your system. Change furnace filters regularly to keep your air clean and to ensure maximum air flow. If your home, apartment or condo unit has an individual furnace or boiler, have it inspected by a professional. A furnace that works properly will be more efficient and less likely to fail. “For maximum savings, ask the service person for tips on ways you can maintain your system yourself,” president Ethan Ewing suggested. WHAT WE’VE DONE: We have not serviced our furnace in a while. We did the first year we were in our home. We do change filters regularly.

2)    Turn down the heat. If your health permits, lower the thermostat to 68 degrees (or even lower). For every one degree the thermostat is lowered, heating costs decrease by up to 5 percent.  At night, or when the home is empty, lower the temperature as far as possible while protecting your health and the safety of pipes. If necessary, stay cozy with an electric blanket. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our thermostat is set to 68 during the morning and evening, 64 during the day and 58 at night (55 just felt too frigid). We do love our electric blankets, and I use a space heater in my office as needed.

3)    Program the temperature. Make furnace settings automatic by installing a programmable thermostat. These devices cost about $40 and are simple to install. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our current house came with one, but I installed one at our old house. So easy! If you haven’t done it, do it — this is the simplest electrical project I’ve ever done. I think it was my first, and it just took a few minutes.

4)    Save hot water energy. Turn the temperature on the hot water heater to 120 degrees – or, if yours is equipped only with a scale, turn it down a notch. Most people can save up to 10 percent of water heating costs, maintaining plenty of hot water (and the water will be less likely to cause accidental scalding). If the hot water heater is situated in a cool area, consider adding an insulating jacket to help maintain water temperatures and reduce heating time. Insulate the first few feet of pipe that transport hot water from the water heater. If you need to replace a water heater, consider a tankless or “on-demand” unit. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates these appliances are 8 percent to 34 percent more efficient than conventional hot water tanks. WHAT WE’VE DONE: I tried turning the water heater down, but it really affected how warm our water was. Our water heater is just a few years old, so perhaps it already is efficient. I would love a tankless heater if the time comes to replace this one.

5)    Insulate. Carefully inspect your home for drafty spots where cold air can enter. The most common culprits are doors and windows. Install weather stripping and door sweeps to block drafts. Add old-fashioned “draft dodgers” for a quick fix at exterior doors. Other common areas for air leaks are locks, outlets, air conditioning units and recessed light fixtures. Cover outside vents, including air conditioning units. If possible, install insulated electrical outlet boxes and light fixtures. The Energy Star program offers a free guide to home insulation at WHAT WE’VE DONE: We installed door sweeps on our metal security doors at front and back, and they make a BIG difference. We also bought weather stripping for drafty windows, but it is still sitting in the closet. I do plan to make a draft dodger for our front door — I made one at our old home (a simple fabric “sock” filled with rice) and it was really helpful. We also are working on putting in an energy-efficient dog door for our outdoors-crazed pooches.

6)    Shop around. Those who purchase fuel oil have a choice of energy providers. Do compare prices to obtain the lowest rates. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Doesn’t apply to us here in natural-gas-rich Colorado.

7)    Take a tax credit. In 2009, homeowners who add certain efficiency measures to their homes can take a tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of the materials used, up to $500 per home. Learn more at WHAT WE’VE DONE: This inspired us to look into a new window for our front picture window (the only window on our house that has not been replaced from the original) and perhaps new front and/or back doors, both of which are old, single-layer wood doors.

“These changes can make a real difference in home heating costs this winter and provide a good start on your 2009 budget,” Ewing said. “You can feel good about saving energy — and keeping more of your money in your own bank account.”

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What about you? Do you have more tips to share? Please do!


8 thoughts on “Saving on winter heat

  1. badhuman says:

    We got blanket for our water heater and keep our heat at 60 all the time. We had it down as low as 55 but raised it when we had guests and just can’t convince ourselves to lower it again. Our bed is a pile of blankets they actually become too much in the middle of the night. I work from home so I wear a couple layers to be more comfortable. We are fostering a momma cat and her kittens so they get a small space heater. The heater has temperature settings so it will automatically turn off when the walk in closet they are in reaches the desired temp.

  2. cowgirl says:

    Love this blog! Found it through yesterday’s Denver Post article about grocery costs. I’ll be a regular visitor! Thanks for sharing these informative and great tips!

    If you want, this blog has similar topics, check it out: I’m a regular visitor there too, and learn a ton!

    Amy aka cowgirl in the city

  3. Jenny says:

    My best tip is wear warm clothes! Last year I was shopping for my daughter’s traditional Christmas Eve gift of new pajamas. I asked the sale s girl if they had any “footie” type pajamas for an 8 year old. Her reply was “I think there are some in the back. They are so warm I don’t know who could possibly wear them.” That floored me. For gosh sakes, it was winter!

    My children went over to a friend’s house the other day dressed in sweaters and coats. The friends answered the door dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirts. I kissed them good-bye and said “Have fun, you’re going to be hot.” It was about 25F outdoors.

    By just wearing seasonal clothing you can turn your heat down a lot!

  4. pennypincherpolly says:

    1. I went one better on the water heater we just replaced. It’s wrapped in two water heater blankets and when it isn’t shower and dish washing time, it gets turned down to vacation mode. The blankets keep the water hot for hours so little inconvenience. Two adults can time these activities in a three hour time frame and turn the water heater down 21 hours a day with little difficulty. Contractor that installed the water heater says it’s perfectly safe.

    2. I found a cheap kitchen timer at the dollar store and use it so I don’t forget I left a space heater running in the bathroom to get it warm for a shower. I also use it to time showers and how long to turn up the water heater. I’m also using it to time internet usage and turning off the computer when it’s not being used.

    3. Two rooms of the house don’t get good air flow from the furnace so I bought a heat register booster fan to balance the system.

    4. Magnetic heat vent covers found on clearance allow me to shut off unused rooms during the day. The master bedroom, wall vents won’t allow the magnetic covers stick so I’m trying to find a way to make that work without climbing up a ladder to manually close the vents. An hour before hubby gets home from work, I remove the vent cover and allow that room to warm up. So far, he hasn’t caught on that the room has been unheated during the eight hours he is at work.

    5. Electric blankets on all the beds allow us to lower the heat at night to 55 or lower. No kids so no concerns about the house being too cold and unhealthy. The dogs wear sweaters on days where the temps don’t top 20 degrees and love it. I also toss a hot water bottle at the foot of the bed at night and just use the electric blanket long enough to get the bed warm. The dog takes care of warming the bed for the rest of the night.

    6. While working at the computer, I wrap up in a quilt and put a hot water bottle at my feet to counteract cold hardwood floors. Eventually, I’m going to seam up the quilt to make a sleeping bag type covering so it doesn’t catch under the wheels of the office chair. Maybe I’ll find an area rug for a good price too. I also bought a pair of fingerless mitts and they are fantastic. Also good for hanging laundry on the line when the forecast is good.

    7. At a discount outlet store, I found down bathrobes for $10 each a few years ago and they get lots of wear. I’m also a big fan of polar fleece robes.

    8. I scored several matching blankets at the thrift store last week (cotton thermal weave) and will be using those to make drapery liners soon. Open drapes during the day to catch sun and closed at night to keep cold out. Other windows, I found suede roman shades at this same discount outlet place for a fifth of what Target wanted for them, lined with me $1 a yard flannel and use those as window coverings. Very old house with windows that are probably original to the house and super expensive to replace due to their unusual 7 foot height.

    9. I hang laundry to air dry in the house since humidified air feels warmer. If the outside temps reach fifty degrees, I use the outdoor clothesline.

    10. Long johns and wool socks, they rock! So do wool sweaters. I found several of at a dollar a bag thrift store sale. House slippers are a must. If it’s a really cold day, I haul out the wool pants I used to wear when I had an office job.

    11. Flannel sheets and feather beds retain body heat well. Down comforters are also super warm.

    12. Good time of year for baking and slow braised meals using a cast iron dutch oven to add heat to the house. I do big batch cooking so there is one big clean up, one big session filling the freezer and more is done with all that electricity burned by the oven at one time.

    13. Quilts are kept near the TV chairs and used to cuddle in. Or I watch TV in the bedroom and am able to lower the thermostat considerably.

    14. The fewer trips outside a day, the better. Dogs are on a schedule for trips outside and when they go out, that’s the time to bring things in from the garage or truck. The dog door has been purchased but not installed yet.

    15. Exterior doors have a fabric tube filled with sand to block drafts. Windows, going to cover them with plastic this week. One door way, made drapes out of clearance quilts lined with plastic to block cold drafts. The door opens to the outside, the drapes are on rings so they slide very easily on the rod thus the drapes don’t get in the way. These door snakes, also made one for each bedroom I shut off when not being used. I’ve got the same problem with thin wooden exterior doors and hope the savings on the heat bill will allow room in the budget for replacements.

    16. Not a fan of footie one-piece pajamas since they require stripping to the waist to go potty. I had a pair and the buttons on the seat were uncomfortable to lie on and difficult to fasten. Some people love them however.

    17. I’ve got an automatic set back thermostat on my list of things to find on sale. It would be nice to have the heat go up before we get out of bed on a cold morning. The hot water heater timer gizmo is being considered but paying for a device that does what I can do by just reaching inside the utility closets, not so sure it’s worth the spend.

    18. I found small indoor thermometers for a buck at the dollar store and have one in every room so I can spot check room temps. It’s a way of keeping everyone honest about wants vs. needs too.

    19. When I get the sewing machine out, I have scrap fabric and rice to make warming bags. I plan to make two the right size to fit into my house booties and insert those when I sit at the computer. I’m also making some for my elderly mother who has chronic pain.

    That all being said, getting my husband to cooperate with all these heat bill lowering measures, that has room for improvement. If he had his way, he’s be running around in summer clothes and turn up the thermostat to 74 degrees. Me, I want replacement windows and doors and extra insulation more than I want instant gratification.

    I love this blog and have been reading it for awhile. I was laid off last Friday so now I have time for plenty of these simple economies. High unemployment in the legal staffing profession so it’s time to live like a 1960’s one income family.

    My granny lived like this in her day and lived a long, healthy life. She’s not around any more but she’s a good role model to follow given the poor economy right now. I draw the line at using a wash board with today’s high efficiency front loading washers but other ways to save money common in the 1960’s are applicable today. Ain’t nothing wrong with a clothesline. Definately nothing wrong with comfort food like fresh baked bread. I really think my generation got spoiled by all these convenience items and maybe we don’t need it all.

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    @Jenny – My daughter got footie PJs for Christmas too … and I just found another pair on clearance for $2 for NEXT year. She wears fleece jammies all the time.

    @Condo Blues – OK, you have me just about convinced to do that project, which I’ve been putting off …

    @Polly – WOW!! Your comment was practically a guest post. You make a great point that we should appreciate things like super warm houses in winter as a convenience, not a necessity. And thanks for all the great ideas.

  6. pennypincherpolly says:

    I didn’t mean to barge. Let’s just say this urge to economize has been building up for awhile and I needed to get it all out.

    For this to work as a lifestyle change, it helps for me to write about my activities. I started a blog on Monday and I think it will keep me honest about doing my life a little greener and cheaper. The theme of my blog is how to the proverbial grasshopper and the proverbial ant manage to adopt this greener, economical lifestyle. I know it’s going to be a struggle. I envy all these other frugal living bloggers where the whole household is on board with making changes for the better.

    I’m also looking around at the effects of this recession on the people around me, the high unemployment rate and friends who are truly struggling. Perhaps by being part of this frugal living dialogue, I can pass on things I learn so they don’t face the hardship or can make changes so their lives improve. I have one neighbor with a broken furnace and no way to replace it because she too is a grasshopper personality. She’d rather use electric space heaters and eat frozen prepared dinners than buckle down to change her circumstances. It’s sad to watch.

    I truly believe the folk wisdom that granny lived by and learned from surviving the Great Depression is being lost as that generation dies off. Or it’s not considered valuable with all this dandy new technology and convenience products we have in our face via advertising. We are in for some tough times and it’s time to revive all those ideas so we make it through.

  7. Laura says:

    Thanks for the tax credit info link! I bought a house this summer and it looks like some of my needed repairs could be turned into efficiency upgrades and possibly qualify for a tax credit.

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