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12 Ways to Lower Your Heating Bills and Save Money

By Susan Borowski

staying warmI grew up in an old, uninsulated farmhouse, and winters were cold, both inside and out. I swore that when I grew up I’d never be cold again. Though you’d think that this requires me to keep the heater blasting full all winter long, I rarely bump the thermostat up to 70 degrees. As a frugal person, I strive to save money on my energy bill by maximizing my heat output, as well as finding ways to stay warm that don’t involve turning up the dial.

Saving money on heating doesn’t necessarily require a full winterization of your house - sometimes you only need to make a change in your habits. Here are 12 ways you can lower your heating bills.

How to Save Money on Heating at Home

1. Use a Programmable Thermostat
If you don’t currently have a programmable thermostat and you can afford one, it’s worth the money to upgrade. ENERGY STAR estimates that an average-sized home can save $150 to $200 per year by switching from a manual to a programmable thermostat.

There are several models available, and which you should select ultimately depends on your weekly schedule: You might want a seven-day model, which gives you ultimate flexibility (e.g., if your kids are home early some days but not on others); a 5+2-day model, which uses one schedule for the week and one for weekends; or a 5-1-1 model, which allows for one schedule during the week and separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday.

For each degree warmer you set your thermostat you increase your energy use by 6%, so keep the temperature comfortable but cool, which for many people is 68 degrees. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, simply remembering to turn the heat down at night and when you leave the house can help lower your heating costs significantly.

2. Maintain Your Furnace
Furnace filters should be changed monthly, and even those that are designed to be changed every three months should be changed more frequently if they look dirty. A dirty filter makes your furnace work harder by slowing down the flow of air.

To keep your furnace running at optimum performance, get it checked and cleaned annually. This is especially important for older furnaces, which may not run as efficiently. Your maintenance person can gauge your furnace’s efficiency, which can help you decide if it’s time for a new one.

3. Cover Bare Floors
I’ve caught myself turning the heat up just because my feet were cold. If you prefer to walk around the house in bare feet no matter the season, cover your floors with rugs in the areas you walk the most. If you prefer not to wear shoes in the house, wear slippers or heavy socks to keep your feet warm so you won’t be tempted to turn up the heat. Some slipper-socks are designed with traction soles to keep you from slipping on bare floors.

programmable heater
4. Eliminate Drafts
Insulate drafty windows by using rope caulk or a window insulator kit. You can feel the difference immediately, and your furnace doesn’t have to work overtime to compensate for cold air leaking in. You can eliminate drafts from your doors by using weather stripping, caulk, or door sweeps.

5. Clear Heating Vents
Move furniture far enough away from heating vents to ensure that you’re heating the room, and not just the furniture. Consider using air deflectors over vents to direct the heat outward instead of letting it drift upward into curtains or drapes. Also, be sure to vacuum the registers and vents on a regular basis to prevent dust buildup.

6. Make Good Use of Curtains and Blinds
Open curtains and blinds early in the day to let the sun help heat the house, and close them after sunset for extra insulation. If it’s the weekend and you plan to sleep in, open the blinds or shades partway the night before to let some of the sunlight in while still maintaining some privacy.

7. Use the Heat You Have
When the weather is cold, use your oven to generate heat by baking desserts for your family or by making meals such as casseroles that require oven time. Make extra use of the warmth by leaving the oven door open when you’re done to let the heat escape. You can do this with the dryer as well. Of course, always use your best judgment regarding safety – if you’ve got small children around, it’s never a good idea to leave a hot oven door open, not even a crack.

8. Use a Space Heater
I work from home, so during the day I keep the house at 66 degrees and heat my home office with a space heater. Because I spend the majority of my day in that room, it doesn’t make sense to heat the entire house. However, be sure that your space heater is energy efficient, as some models can use far more electricity than their small size would suggest.

9. Make Smart Use of Fans and Vents
Warm air rises, so you can help deflect it back down to where you want it by running ceiling fans clockwise. Kitchen and bathroom venting fans, on the other hand, draw the warm air out, so use them sparingly. Winter air is dry, so if you’re just venting humidity, do so minimally to keep some moisture in the house.

10. Make Adjustments to Your Water Heater
For every 10 degrees you reduce the thermostat on your water heater, you can save 3% to 5% in operating costs. The optimum setting is considered to be 120 degrees. You can also put your water heater on a timer that turns it off during the day when it’s not being used, or at night when you’re sleeping.

You can save yourself 10 gallons of hot water by taking a shower instead of a bath, and insulating your water heater can save 4% to 9% in operating costs as well. To save even more money, switch to a tankless or “on-demand” system.

sitting by the fire
11. Use Your Fireplace Wisely
An inefficient fireplace generates little heat and can make the rest of the house colder by drawing in outside air through drafty windows. On the other hand, a high-efficiency fireplace can generate enough heat to help warm an entire house. In either case, close the damper when the fireplace is not in use to prevent the warm air heated by your furnace from literally going up the chimney.

12. Insulate Your Home
An insulated home can use up to 50% less energy than a home without insulation. Insulation is rated by R-value: The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. If you decide to insulate, don’t necessarily stop at your attic. You can also insulate ducts, pipes, and even outlets and switches.

Final Word

While the advice used to be that you should close off air vents to little-used rooms in central air heating systems to save energy, studies now show that the opposite may be true. Closing vents alters the way air is moved through the system, which is designed to distribute evenly through all vents. Disturbing that balance may actually reduce operating efficiency and increase your costs.

What additional ways have you found to save money on heating?

Susan Borowski
Susan Borowski is a regular contributing writer to online and print publications, as well as a science blogger, which allows her to express the science geek in her. As a former corporate and litigation paralegal, human resources manager, and HR editor, she is knowledgeable in various areas of law and business.

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Comments

  • John@TheMoneyPrinciple

    Good tips – it’s freezing in the UK at the moment in the middle of March! Actually we must get our boiler serviced anyway.

  • http://mydebtucation.blogspot.com/ Mario

    Wear a sweater? Would using the oven to help with the heating save money or is this only if we were planning on baking anyway?

  • Susan Borowski

    Well, if you’re like me, cold weather is an excuse to bake something and kill two birds with one stone – eat something yummy and heat up the house at the same time. I’ve actually been able to turn the thermostat down a degree while baking. I’m not suggesting that it be used as a heat substitute; but if you’re going to use the oven anyway, why not make the most of it?

  • http://solar-power-now.com/ Solar-Power-Now.com

    I think all of these bill lowering tips are quite effective. I personally think that number 12 (insulating your home) could be a little closer to the top of the list. Many homeowners are still paying too much for their electricity. Solar is becoming a solution for an increasing number of homeowners. It’s now cost effective for millions of Americans.

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