As the holidays hit, we’re faced with the twin money drains of increased energy costs and holiday budget bloat. While you can’t do much about needing to buy presents for every aunt, uncle, cousin and pet your family has, you can attack and deflate your energy bills. Just a few tweaks can save you hundreds of dollars per year, and with some investments in sound upgrades, you can set yourself up for long-term savings.
We’ll start small and move to more complex changes, but the end result should lower your bills substantially. Wasting less power means less cash out of your pocket and less impact on the environment; that’s a win-win this winter.
These are things literally any renter or homeowner can do with only a minor investment of time and/or money.
Make sure your thermostat is set lower. There’s no reason to have your thermostat at 72 degrees or even higher during the winter. If you find yourself shivering, wear warmer clothes in your house, but every degree you push that ‘stat is going to cost you more money. You could save $50-100 or more per year, depending on your home’s size.
Cover your windows. Invest the tiny amount of money it costs to buy window wraps. If you’ve never used these before, they’re basically large sheets of dense plastic wrap that you tape to your window borders and then seal tight with a blowdryer or heat gun. This treatment can dramatically reduce bills by stopping drafts or heat loss through window glass. A $10 investment on window plastics can turn into a $35 per year savings on heat, or more.
More Tweaks to Save
Additionally, winter is a good month to add heavy curtains to your windows. These not only block out the early morning light, allowing you better sleep, but also keep heat in and cold out.
Be certain to change your furnace filter each season. Four times a year might sound excessive, but if you knew how much of a difference in temperature and air quality having a clean filter makes, this would be your first step. Make sure you change it every quarter – this will improve the effectiveness of your air conditioning, as well and cut down on indoor allergies immensely. Changing your filter regularly can save you $20-30 per year.
Unplug appliances when not in use. Sure it’s tempting to just leave your smoothie maker plugged in, saving you 2 seconds each morning, but the reality is that it only feels more efficient to leave it in. Our brains are wired to be lazy, and the reality is that unplugging standby appliances can save you $50 a year or more, depending on where you live.
Mind the Water
Adjust your water heater temperature. Your water heater can likely go above 120 degrees and it’s very likely it was defaulted above that, around 140. Putting your water heater at 120 degrees will still kill water-borne illnesses but prevent you from being scalded. Additionally, the energy needed to heat that much water an additional 20 degrees is staggering, and you’ll notice the reduction in cost on your bill. Turning down your water heater can save you around $20 or more per year.
Time your showers. This is especially difficult in the winter when the cozy warmth of a morning shower is all that shields you from the horrors of the cold morning. That said, you need to cut your showers down. I myself am guilty of a long shower, thinking about complex issues like what a dog dreams about, but they’re simply not good for you in any way (unless you’re sick). Long, hot showers cost a lot of money, both in water usage and energy spent to heat all that water. If you need another reason, long hot showers raise your blood pressure and dry out your skin.
What follows here will be changes you can make that will require a larger purchase or installation of a new appliance. While these switches will save you money as a homeowner, their cost can be prohibitive for some, though the savings over the life of the appliance will more than make up for the initial cost.
Get a smart thermostat. A “smart” thermostat can connect to your phone or tablet for adjusting when you’re not physically around it; there’s no sense in keeping the temperature up when you’re not home, right? Additionally, one of these temperature controls “learns” how long and how much energy is needed to heat your home, and will adjust the temperature to stay in that perfect area as efficiently as possible. For an initial investment of a smart thermostat of around $125, you will save roughly $75-100 a year.
Go for energy-efficient appliances when you buy new ones. I’m not saying you should dump your old appliances right now, but energy efficient models are often very similar in price and will save you upwards of $10-20 per year. This is especially true of energy-efficient clothes washers and water heaters.
Stop those drafts
Wind comes in through more than just windows, unfortunately. Particularly in older homes, there are plenty of places for cold air to leak in; baseboards, cracks in your foundation and spaces between an unfinished basement and the upstairs are all common culprits. Draft-proofing kits can be used on doors, baseboards and windows where the seams just don’t fit tight. Don’t want to seal up your windows for months on end? Use bubblewrap on your windows to keep the cold out! Sealing cracks in your foundation can also help dramatically and the sealant can be bought relatively cheap from your local hardware store. All of these efforts together can save you $40 or more per year.
These next few are only things I would recommend if you were already considering a similar upgrade or remodel on your home. These are energy-efficient swaps or considerations for larger-scale projects, or something that you’d likely need a professional to assist with. Some of these are great to help you save money in the summer, too!
Insulate your attic. Because this costs a few hundred dollars or more for a professional to do it, it’s something to consider when you’ve got the money to spare. That said, proper insulation for your roof can save you $150 or more per year, which more than makes up for the cost of installation.
Hang double-paned glass. If you’re considering getting new windows, go for the double-pane variety. These will do the job of the plastic wrap much better and are more durable. This little swap can save you $50-100 per year and save you the effort of putting plastic up.
Upgrade your water heater. While nobody wants to buy a new water heater, if you’re looking to invest in one, getting an energy-efficient model is absolutely critical. Especially if you’re upgrading from an older model, you can save literally hundreds of dollars per year by going energy efficient.
Get a heat pump or radiant heat baseboards (or both). This is an upgrade that definitely costs a decent amount of money and often doesn’t replace existing appliances, so you’re purchasing these directly as an addition but they can more efficiently heat your home using less power. Radiant heat baseboards use very little energy, or often use a system of flowing hot water around your home to increase ambient temperature without added energy cost. A heat pump draws in heat and releases it where it’s needed. Though they require professional installation and can be pricey, this is a long-term investment in energy efficiency.
Another option, if you have a fireplace, is looking into a heatilator. This was especially helpful when we had access to cheap firewood (by way of the tree that took down our fence last year!) It’s nice to be able to heat and air condition by room instead of the whole house!
A handful of small changes can make a big impact
Consider a savings of a few hundred dollars per year for making a few small changes to your lifestyle and home energy economy. You’d make those changes, right? And if you’re in the market to upgrade your appliances, there’s literally no reason to not opt for a more energy-efficient model. Saving money and wasting less energy are both just fantastic things, and you can do both with a little time and money.
Do you have any advice on how to lower energy costs that we didn’t cover here? What do you do in your home to keep your bills down but your home toasty warm?
I’d love to hear in the comments!