When winter settles in, it’s time to bundle up, break out the comfort food and enjoy some hot beverages to combat seasonal chills. Unfortunately, winter also means that families who rely on gas for heat see their bills skyrocket relative to the rest of the year. Read on for a few reasons your bill for gas (as well as other utilities) might fly up to outrageous heights while you hunker inside this winter, and what you can do to keep your costs under control.
Why is my Gas Bill so High in Winter?
- You need to heat your house: For most of the year, you might run a kitchen stove, water heater, and maybe a dryer on gas, keeping the bills at a manageable level. Once the temperatures start dropping, however, it’s time for your furnace to earn its keep, maintaining an indoor temperature that could be 30, 40, 50 degrees or more above the frigid outside air, depending on how cold it gets in your part of the country and how warm you like to keep your house. That means a significant amount of natural gas piping in to fuel your heater, and bills that can run up in the hundreds of dollars every month.
- A heavy load on the dryer: People need to wear a lot of layers during the winter, and those bulky sweatshirts take up a lot of space in the dryer. Plus, during a snowy winter clothes tend to get soaked quickly during outdoor recreation, especially if children are involved, meaning you’ll need to run the dryer even more. It’s not as big a gas hog as the furnace, but all those laundry cycles can add up.
- Don’t forget about the electric bill: As if the gas payment wasn’t bad enough, you could see your electric bill shoot up as well, compared to the relatively inexpensive autumn period when you don’t need to run an air conditioner or a furnace. In many parts of the country it gets dark in the afternoon in winter, so you’ll need to keep the lights on for hours longer than you would during other parts of the year. What’s more, when it gets chilly outside we’re more likely to stay in and watch television or pursue other electronic forms of diversion in lieu of heading out into the cold dark evening, all of which will up your electricity consumption.
How to Reduce Gas Costs by Making Your Home More Efficient:Short of moving to the tropics, there’s no way around diverting an extra portion of your budget toward winter heating needs, but there are a number of steps you can take to keep your gas bills from getting out of hand:
- Turn the thermostat down: This is the easiest intervention you can make to lower your gas bill in the winter, and one of the most effective. According to the Department of Energy, if you bring the thermostat down by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day, you can reduce your fuel bill by as much as 10 percent. That’s easy to achieve if you make the temperature reduction while you’re away from home or sleeping. For even more savings, put on a sweater and keep the thermostat a few ticks lower while you’re home during the day as well.
- Consider a smart thermostat: If it’s too much to remember to constantly manually adjust the temperature in your home, think about installing a smart thermostat, which you can program to automatically maintain optimal efficiency. The device can even monitor your habits on its own and make more tweaks to wring out the very most in energy savings while still providing you with a comfortable house to live in.
- Install fresh air filters: If you have forced air heat, you need to swap out your filters regularly, both to keep the furnace blower from working too hard and reducing its efficiency as well as to improve your indoor air quality. Your exact specifications will vary depending on your filter model and living conditions, but typically filters should be changed every one to three months.
- Consider alternative heat sources. Bundle up in warm clothing and blankets, and use other heat sources like electric blankets, space heaters or a fireplace to give your central heater a break.
- Get help from the professionals: You can ensure your heating system is running at maximum efficiency by having an HVAC technician pay a service call each year before the cold season sets in and check that all your components are functioning properly. Not only will this keep your bills lower, it will help reduce the risk of a breakdown in the dead of winter.
- Insulate, insulate, insulate: Poorly insulated homes are a huge money waster, as they allow the warmth you generate inside to leak out of the house, where it does you no good at all. Pay special care to your attic, as the precious (and expensive) heat in your living space will try to rise to the top of your house if not blocked by sufficient insulation. Along the same lines, check for drafty doors and windows, and weatherproof them as necessary to help seal that warm air inside.
- Air dry your laundry: This may not be feasible for everyone, but if you have the time and space to air dry your wet clothes you can save a substantial amount of energy that would otherwise be devoted to the dryer. Outdoor clotheslines are no good in sub-zero temperatures, but if you find space in your basement, bathroom or other areas, you will thank yourself every month when the gas bill arrives.
- Set the water heater to a lower temperature: Most households have no real need for water at extreme temperatures like 140 degrees. You can reduce your risk of scalding and save on your gas bill by setting your heater to the Department of Energy-recommended temperature of 120 degrees, which is quite sufficient for most families.
- Use your windows to your advantage: Nice heavy drapes provide an extra layer of insulation and block drafts in the nighttime. Then, when the sun comes up, you can open the drapes and let the light shine in, warming your house as well as helping to keep the wintertime blues away.