Tips to stay warm and save energy this winter
by Miranda Boutelle, Contributing Columnist
Q: My winter energy bills are typically higher. Can you offer advice on how to lower bills during colder months?
A: Colder weather can increase energy use and bills since heating accounts for the highest wintertime energy consumption in most homes. The amount of energy used to heat your home depends on your equipment, how you use it, and the efficiency of your home’s shell — the building components that separate the indoors from the outdoors.
It’s important to know how your home is heated so you can make informed decisions on your energy use. It also helps you prepare for upcoming bills and avoid surprises that impact your budget. A forced-air furnace is the most common type of heating system and is fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity. Heat pumps are growing in popularity and available for forced-air systems. If you have a forced-air system, check the filter regularly and replace when it’s dirty.
Ductless heat pumps, or mini-splits, boilers, radiant heat, baseboard heaters and electric resistance heaters are other common heating-system types.
If you don’t know what type of system you have, find the model number of your equipment and look it up online. You’ll find information about the kind of system, how efficiently it operates, and recommendations for servicing it, which can improve system efficiency.
We use energy to make our homes comfortable. The easiest and lowest-cost way to save money on heating is to keep your thermostat as low as your comfort will allow. The closer your home’s temperature is to the outdoor temperature, the less energy is used.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends a thermostat setting of 68 degrees in the winter while you are awake, and lower when you are asleep or away from home. Keep in mind that setting the temperature too low can cause pipes to freeze or moisture issues in some geographic locations.
Adding an additional layer of clothing, slippers or a hat can keep you comfortable in a cooler home.
Cold, windy winter days are the perfect time to find opportunities for air sealing. Rattling doors or moving curtains can indicate air leakage. Air leakage can occur when two different materials come together, like drywall and trim work. Cracked plaster and gaps in drywall can also cause drafts. Sealing the gaps saves energy and improves comfort.
As outdoor temperatures dip this winter, take a few proactive steps to maintain comfort in your home and keep your energy bill in check.
Miranda Boutelle writes on energy-efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.