Keeping Your Family Warm While Lowering Your Energy Usage in Fall and Winter

Staying Warm at Home in WinterFeeling cozy – it’s what we all want when cold weather arrives.  Staying warm in your “castle” doesn’t have to equate to higher heating bills or large investments into home improvement.  Let’s discuss a few economical ways to be comfortable inside, when Mother Nature is giving you the cold shoulder outside.

Thermostats

The centerpiece of any discussion regarding comfort and energy savings is your thermostat.  The two basic rules of thumb for thermostat savings are “less is more” and “timing is everything.”

Temperature is the first half of the battle.  While it’s tempting to keep the thermostat set to a balmy 78 degrees during the winter, your wallet will pay the price.  Instead, set your thermostat to 68 degrees for those times when you are awake and at home, and reduce it 60 degrees while you sleep or when you are away from home.

The other big issue regarding your thermostat is timing.  Even if you can remember to change the thermostat when you get up, go to bed, enter, or leave, how many of us will go to the trouble?  The simple solution to the timing dilemma is a programmable thermostat.  Upgrading to one of these handy gadgets can cost as little as $20 and will help you save some big bucks over time.

Looking for something a little cutting edge?  Smart thermostats are now available that can be controlled over the internet, monitor and track usage, adjust for ambient conditions, and even tell when you’re home and when you’re not!  Be aware, while smart thermostats are full of great energy saving features, they come with a hefty upfront price tag as well.

Portable electric heaters

Need I say more?  Well, actually, yes.  Portable heaters can provide cost savings in addition to toasty feet and a warm glow, but there are things to keep in mind.  First, what type of furnace do you have?  If your furnace is powered by electricity, substantial cost savings are possible by using portable heaters in the rooms that you occupy.  If your furnace is powered by gas, you may or may not see appreciable energy savings as gas is generally cheaper than electricity.  Factors such as the efficiency of your furnace and the size of the area being heated all play into the utility of a portable electric heater when using a gas powered furnace.

Second, safety is a concern.  While new models have tilt switches that will shut off a device if knocked over, many models can still cause a fire if placed too near to combustible materials such as curtains or table cloths.  You also do not want to leave a portable electric heater unattended for long periods of time.

Air leaks

One common source of winter discomfort and wasted money are air leaks.  Cold air can enter and warm air can leave through a wide variety of places throughout your home, but there are a few spaces that are easy to address, and at low cost. Here are a few tips for getting the job done:

  • Install weather stripping around doors and window sashes, as well as on door thresholds. Seal any leaks in door and window frames (the stationary parts) with some caulk.  For added insulation, add window shrink film or plastic around old, single pane windows.
  • If you have a chimney, install an inflatable chimney balloon.
  • Install foam gaskets behind switch and outlet wall plates.
  • Use caulking or foam sealant to close any holes around plumbing, duct work, or other utility openings.  Foam sealant is also great for filling in any holes or cracks greater than 1/4” around doors, windows, and baseboards.

Another quick tip: to reduce heat loss through hard wood floors, use a thick area rug with a pad.

Windows: not such a “pane” after all

As we just discussed, windows can be a source of air leaks and heat loss, but they can also be a useful tool in combating high electricity bills that result from increased energy usage.  During winter months, open your shades and curtains on south facing windows during the day.  This will help to heat your home naturally, while saving you a little hard earned cash.  At night, close window curtains to reduce drafts and to keep where it belongs.

Bundle up!

Lastly, if staying warm and saving money are your goals, dress for success.  If you’re like me, wearing shorts and a t-shirt around the house feels great, but in the colder months, it can be costly.  Keep in mind that, once you’re inside, winter doesn’t become summer.  I’m not suggesting you wear a parka while watching TV in your living room, but donning sweatpants and sweatshirt, or jeans and a light sweater will help you keep your thermostat and your heating bill down.

With these easy and cost effective strategies for keeping your family warm and your energy usage down during the fall and winter months, you’ll feel cozy in your castle while keeping some money in your wallet.  I think that’s called a win-win!