Monday, January 3, 2011

This Cold House: How to Cut Down on Your Heating Bills Without Freezing

My husband thinks I'm weird, but every year in the late fall, just when it's starting to get cold, I see how long we can go until before we turn on the heater. I partly do it to test out all my ways of keeping the house warm without central heating and partly to test my family's tolerance. Like I said, kind of weird. (Granted, I found a blog all about how a guy who took it even further and didn't turn on his furnace at all one winter, so at least I'm not that eccentric.) I don't drag our heaterless period on for that long and I look forward to turning it on because I like the smell of the first firing up of the heater (it just makes me feel cozy).

November and December in my area has been pretty mild this year, for the most part. The weekend before Christmas, it just rained and rained. Temperatures were in the upper 40s and it felt (and looked) more like October than the first days of winter. We didn't get the white Christmas I'd hoped for, but then a couple days later Mother Nature realized that it was winter here, too. Over the past week, we've been blasted with snow and freezing temperatures. The other day, the high was 18 degrees; at night, the temperatures have been barely above zero.

Despite Jack Frost nipping at your nose and Old Man Winter banging at the door, there are lots of ways you can save on your heating bills while still staying comfortably warm.  Here are some the tips and techniques we use around our slightly-chillier-than-average house:

1. Gradually decrease your home's temperature.
This week, try lowering your thermostat by just one degree. Chances are, no one will notice the difference.  According to an article I read, each one-degree drop for an eight-hour period reduces your heating costs by 1% (another article I read said it can save up to 3%). Obviously, the lower you set your thermostat, the greater your savings. Talk about easy. By decreasing gradually, we've made 67/68 degrees our normal, comfortable home temperature.  I've become so used to it, any home I've visited with its temperature above 70 feels almost too warm.

2. Use a programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats are great because you can adjust the temperature of your home according to your daily needs. For example, at 6 AM our thermostat kicks up to 68 degrees (the highest we have it set) to warm the house up before we get out of bed. In the middle of the day, when we use the sun to help heat up the house, we have the thermostat set a couple degrees lower, around 65/66 degrees. Then, in the early evening, when the sun has begun to set, the temperature goes back up to 68 degrees before it drops all the way to 60 degrees at 10 PM. If your family spends a good chunk of the day outside of the home at work and school, you can save lots of money by setting your thermostat lower during the hours you're gone.  Programmable thermostats range in price, anywhere from $20-$70, and you can install it yourself. (Check out this video from Home Depot all about buying and installing a programmable thermostat.)

3. Keep temperatures even lower at night.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, we have our nighttime temperature set all the way down to 60 degrees.  It's chilly at first before we get into bed, but once we're asleep, no one notices how much cooler the house is. Lots of blankets, warm pajamas, and a pair of socks help. Sometimes, I'll heat up the warmer pack I made (easy instructions to make your own in this post I wrote last year) and stick it under the covers while I'm getting ready for bed. Sure, nighttime trips to the bathroom are a little chilly, but really no big deal. Try setting your thermostat anywhere between 3-5 degrees cooler at night and see if you notice a big difference.

4. Use your blinds and drapes to your advantage.
Window coverings can help with heating savings. Just by keeping the blinds open and the drapes pulled back on a sunny day, I can easily bring the temperature up in my house by a few degrees, which keeps the heater from firing up as frequently. Once the sun goes down, I close all the blinds and drapes to help insulate the house from the cold windows. From what I understand, blinds don't really do all that much to stop heat loss, but drapes can cut heat loss by as much as 10%.  I just replaced the drapes in our living room with longer, heavier ones and I've noticed a difference (especially since the window in that room seems to be the draftiest).

5.  Use draft stoppers.
There are just some spots where the cold air seeps through -- that spot in my house is at the bottom of my back door, by the hinges. Right now, I have a rolled towel blocking it, but I plan on sewing a weighted draft stopper. More on this in my next post, where I'll show how I'm making mine, step-by-step.

6. Close off vents in rooms not used.
Close the vents in rooms not used often and keep the door shut. My parents do this with a couple rooms in their house. No sense in heating rooms that you don't go in, right?

7. Turn on the ceiling fan.
It almost seems counter-intuitive to turn on a ceiling fan in the wintertime, but it can help cut heating costs, especially if you have high ceilings. Since heat rises, the heated air can collect where no one will feel it. If you turn your ceiling fan on the reverse setting (so it turns clockwise), the heated air will be pushed downward. Keep your fan at the lowest setting so you don't get a breeze. Our living room has vaulted ceilings, so I decided to test this out. As weird as it seems to have the ceiling fan going, it doesn't create a cooling draft like I thought it would.

8. Replace or clean your furnace filter regularly.
When your furnace filter gets clogged with dust and lint, your furnace is less effective, which can translate to higher heating bills. The jury still seems to be out about how often to replace/clean filters: some people say every month, others say once every three months. Filters aren't very expensive, so it couldn't hurt to change it every month in the winter. I'm no expert on this, but I figure you can keep an eye on it and determine yourself how often it needs to be changed. We have a reusable furnace filter that you clean with water.  I'm horrible about remembering to clean it, so writing all of this will serve as a good reminder!

9. Get cooking!
In the hot summer months I do whatever I can to not do any cooking or baking because it gets the kitchen so warm.  In the winter, however, this added heat is definitely welcome. In the wintertime, my mom always leaves the oven door cracked open after she's turned it off. She figures that the oven has to cool off anyway, why not get some of that hot air out into the kitchen? (Note: may not be the best idea if you have little ones who don't know better than to touch it. My four-year-old steers clear of the oven because he knows it's hot.). I'm not sure how true this is and if leaving the oven cracked makes a difference, but I do know that baking and cooking heats my kitchen up nicely, oven door open or closed.

10. Socks and blankets go a long way. So does hot chocolate.
In the evening, the house can get a little chilly, even if we're used to the 67 degree temperature most of the time. It's amazing what a nice pair of socks can do to make you more comfortable. Same goes for blankets -- we keep a basket of quilts and blankets next to the couch since it always seems colder when you're not moving. Take it a step further and make yourself a nice cup of cocoa. Saving money on heating can be easy and delicious!


StrivingSimply said...

I do the same thing - I made it to the beginning of December before turning the heat up to 50 degrees this year. Our electric heaters (ugh) are set to 60 degrees right now. I turned them up when I came downstairs before Christmas and saw my house guest sleeping in a winter coat under the blankets. I guess it was just too cold...

Nisha said...

You're so not weird for seeing how long you can go without turning on the heat. I do it to. I was actually just thinking last night about lowering our temp one degree or so. I've been getting hot at night! I'm anxious to see what you create for the drafty areas. Have you ever added caulking to windows in the winter time to seal the windows?

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