6 Small And Simple Ways To Save Money On Your Heating Bill—According To An Energy Expert

Fall is here. It's time to stop thinking about air-conditioning bills and more about your heating bill.

October 11, 2017
heating home
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When most people think about renewable energy, they think windmills and solar panels harvesting the never-ending supplies of wind and sunlight. (Here are ways to get solar energy without installing panels on your roof.) But when energy pundits think renewable fuels, they're thinking energy efficiency—and harvesting the never-ending supplies of human creativity in how they can save energy.

"I like to think about active people, passive houses," says James Brew, architect and senior manager with KPMG AZSA Sustainability, based in Tokyo, Japan, and a former principal architect at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think-tank that advocates for more efficient use of natural resources. "If you actively engage in the energy operation of your house, you're going to save money, and you learn more about your house's energy balance."

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(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

So forget the pricey solar panels and, says Brew, even the expensive window replacements. If you want to know how to save energy in your home, think much smaller, like leaky windows and uninsulated pipes, because it's those small changes that add up to big savings over time, especially during winter. Heating your air and your water takes up the largest chunk of your annual electricity bill. With fall and winter just around the corner, Brew offers three ways to save energy when the temperature drops. 

Related: Scientists Breed Oil-Rich "Fat Plants" That Could Be The Biofuel Of The Future

Seal up your windows from the inside

"Any season of the year is a good season to seal up the house," says Brew. But you may notice leaky windows more in the fall or winter, particularly if drafts blowing in around the frame make you cold. It's often suggested  to turn leaky windows into powerful energy-saving windows by sealing cracks from the outside. Brew has an even easier way to cut down on leaks, and it'll only cost you a few dollars. The best part? You can do it all from the inside.

 

First, take off the trim around your windows and floorboards on inside of the house walls. If you feel comfortable that you won't get electrocuted, take off your outlet covers and pull the outlet out of the wall, as well. Then, using a low-expanding foam sealant, start filling in any cracks or small holes you might see (if you don't see any, Brew suggests using a lit incense stick to detect air leaks). "This is the most effective thing people can do in houses that were built before 2000, which is about 85 percent of the homes out there," he says. While you're doing that, he adds, take out any insulation you see there and spray your low-expanding foam in its place. "Historically, people took bad insulation and just pounded it into place with a screwdriver or the end of a hammer," he says. In most cases, that bad insulation is pretty ineffective at keeping out drafts. "It's literally a weekend project," Brew says, "and you can easily see a 10 to 15 percent—or more—change in your energy bills."

Related: 8 Things You Should Do To Get Your Home Ready For Winter

man insulating home
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Insulate your attic door

While any time of year is a good time to seal windows, fall is the perfect time to attend to your attic. "Why fall? It's a lot cooler up there!" Brew says. "Anytime after the third or fourth week of September, go to the attic and poke around, and look at the attic insulation." While heat loss is generally greater through windows and walls, it's much cheaper and easier to add insulation to your attic, and you'll still save money on your energy bill. An added benefit for people who live in far northern climates that get a lot of snow is that extra attic insulation helps prevent "ice dams," according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Ice dams are ridges of ice that form on a rooftop and prevent melting snow from draining; the melted snow then leaks into the home, where it causes serious water damage.

 

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Energy-Saving Insulation

While you're adding insulation, check out your attic door itself. "Your attic door can be responsible for up to 15 percent of your home's heat loss," says Brew. "Many are just a panel of drywall that sits on a lip, and they're usually at the highest point of the house where all the heat and energy are trying to get out." You don't need to seal them permanently shut, he says. Just put some gasketing around them if your attic door is the type that gets pulled down from the ceiling, or add some weather-stripping around the door frame if it's the type that opens and shuts like an ordinary room door. For the latter, you can also make an easy DIY door snake to keep drafts to a minimum.

While you're winterizing your home, check out these plants that can survive in darker rooms and bring greenery indoors all winter:

Conduct a few standard inspections

Since your heating bill usually accounts for the largest chunk of your electricity bill—even more than air-conditioning, if you can believe that after our hot, hot summer—fall is a good time to give your HVAC unit a physical. "It's a great time to change filters and have an inspection of your home's heating and cooling systems," he says. Call your unit's manufacturer to find a heating expert who can give it a once-over and, hopefully, a clean bill of health. But don't stop there.

"Now is also a great opportunity to log on to your local utility's webpage to see if there are any incentive programs," Brew notes, whether for energy-efficient appliances or for energy audits, comprehensive evaluations of your home conducted by a certified energy rater who can tell you where to make improvements and which of those improvements will reap the greatest savings on your energy bill. 

Related: 7 Ridiculously Easy Ways To Save Money On Your Utility Bills

If you're less interested in major projects, use the change of seasons to conduct a few simple energy-efficiency measures that cost you absolutely nothing. 

clean fridge
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Clean your refrigerator

Refrigerators use more energy than any other home appliance, but you can make yours more efficient by keeping it maintained. Vacuum the coils on the back, or on the bottom, of your fridge, and check its temperature. Put a standard food thermometer in a small glass of water on the middle shelf; the temperature should register 41°F, which is optimal for food safety but not too cold to waste electricity.

Related: ENERGY STAR Dryers Could Help You Save

Clean your dryer

Lint can build up in your dryer's hose and in the pipes running to the dryer's external vent, increasing your dryer's energy use by up to 30 percent. That not only creates a fire hazard, but it also prevents moist air from venting outside, which can cause mildew problems, particularly in winter. Vacuum out the lint filter with your vacuum cleaner's hose attachment. Then detach the dryer hose from both the dryer and the wall, and vacuum lint from the back of the machine and from the pipes where the hose attaches to the wall. Finally, head outside to clear any linty obstructions from your dryer's external vent.

Related: 7 Steps You Should Take To Detox The Air In Your Home

Open the drapes

Solar heat is the best kind of heat: free. In the summer, it's best to close the drapes during the day, to prevent heat from coming in, and then open them at night to allow the heat to escape. In the fall and winter, reverse that: Keep them open to let heat in during the day, and then close them at night to prevent it from escaping.

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