Wintertime brings lots of opportunities to stay warm and cozy inside, but those incidents come with a cost. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, around 45% of the average household’s energy bill goes towards heating. And if your home isn’t as energy efficient as it could be, you might be in for an unwelcome surprise every time you open the bills that arrive in your mailbox this season. If you want to stay on budget until spring, you may actually have to spend a little bit of time and money making some improvements in your home. Here are a few key areas to focus on in order to keep costs down this winter.
Invest in Heating Maintenance and Repairs
It never fails: your HVAC system will probably decide to break down right when you need it most. But you can avoid making an emergency call (and paying for an unexpected replacement) if you stay on top of your regular maintenance and make repairs as soon as they’re needed. Replacing central air conditioning equipment (particularly components that are more than 15 years old) can result in energy savings; the same goes for furnaces, too. If you call your HVAC technician for a complete inspection and cleaning, you’ll be able to catch small problems early and ensure your system is working efficiently. That way, it won’t be working harder than it has to — which means you’ll ultimately save more each month.
You’ll also want to change your HVAC filters on a monthly basis to ensure clean airflow and peak efficiency. If you have a smart thermostat, you can program it to reduce the heat by a couple of degrees while you’re asleep or when you’re gone at work during the day. Don’t be too over-zealous about turning the heat down during those periods, though. Your system will have to work harder to bring the temperature up to a more comfortable level once you’re there and awake, so check with your HVAC technician if you’re unsure about the optimal settings in order to save.
Insulate and Seal
You can do all the work you want on your HVAC system, but if your home is notoriously drafty, your furnace will still have to work overtime to keep your home cozy. When the warm air escapes and the cold air comes in due to cracks or poor insulation, you’ll end up spending more to correct the issue each month — and you still may not be as comfortable as you could be.
If you know you’ve got leaks or drafts, you can apply caulk or weatherstripping around doors and windows. You should also take a good look at what’s going on in your attic. Proper attic insulation can save you anywhere from 10% to 50% on your heating and cooling bills. Plus, it can prevent ice dam formation, leaks, and necessary roof repairs. Some experts say your insulation should be around five inches deep for best results. You can also wrap hot water pipes and your hot water heater to provide an extra barrier of insulation; this can reduce the amount of energy required to warm up the water and even keep pipes from bursting.
Look to the Lights
Given the reduction in daylight hours during this season, you’re probably using more electricity to keep your home both safe and welcoming. That can have a significant impact on your energy bills, however. Whenever possible, you should use natural lighting to your advantage. Remember to open your blinds during the daytime, as this can offset your need to turn on every lamp in your house (and even warm up your home without as much help from your heater). Just make sure to close them as the sun goes down so that you won’t waste excess energy.
You may also want to consider converting your indoor and outdoor light sources to LED. The U.S. Department of Energy believes LED lighting has the potential to reduce American energy use by nearly 50%. Whether you’re inside on the couch or putting up holiday decorations outside, utilizing LEDs can make your bills more manageable without sacrificing on light quality.
Small changes like these might not sound like much, but the truth is that they can make a big difference in your budget for this season. At a time when many of us are feeling the pressure to spend more than we can afford on holiday cheer, every penny helps.