February 1, 2018

Keeping your home cozy and warm in wintertime often comes at a steep price. Energy bills can skyrocket at this time of year, with everything from attic air leaks to drafty windows and thermostat misuse putting a major dent in household budgets. While making your own power with solar panels can be a good solution to lowering your energy bills throughout the year, energy efficiency is still a must.

You may be surprised by how big of a difference efficiency can make — setting the thermostat at 70℉ instead of 75℉, for example, can save you as much as 30% annually. Use the following smart strategies to ensure your heating bills stay reasonable this winter.

1. Identify possible energy efficiency issues

As a first step, it's a good idea to have a professional energy audit performed on your home before the weather gets colder. These audits involve a variety of different approaches, with more advanced testing costing more than basic testing. During the audit, a professional energy auditor will do things like interviewing you about your winter energy bills, touring the home to collect data, and performing a blower door test to make sure your home is properly sealed from incoming air.

2. Keep warm air inside and cold air outside

Are some rooms in your house much colder than others? Insulation and air sealing issues and HVAC system inefficiencies of all sorts lead some people to turn to highly inefficient solutions like electric space heaters. While these portable heaters can be effective at making a room feel warmer, they're expensive solutions to a problem that can be solved through more direct, long-lasting, and affordable means.

If one room in your house feels colder than the rest, chances are that the warm air is leaking out and cold air is getting inside. Proper insulation in walls and attics, shrink-wrap film for leaky windows, and simple things like leaving curtains open while the sun is shining (and closing them at night) can help keep those cold rooms warmer and eliminate the need for space heating.

3. Upgrade to energy efficient appliances

The appliances you use in your home, particularly in your kitchen, can have a big impact on your energy bills. If your energy audit shows that your home is adequately air-sealed and that your HVAC system is working well and you're still unhappy with how high your energy bills are in winter, switching to better appliances can be effective. ENERGY STAR-rated appliances are a good start, but the specific model you choose makes a difference as well. For example, an upright freezer can cost $10 more each month than a chest freezer, which has a more efficient design.

4. Switch to energy efficient light bulbs

Switching your old incandescent lightbulbs for modern compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diodes (LED) bulbs is another way to attack high winter energy bills. These energy efficient bulbs use less power to produce the same amount of light, and they also last longer than traditional bulbs. The savings from this alone aren't massive, but every little bit adds up, especially if you're on a tight budget and you're feeling uncomfortable due to heat rationing.

5. Hunt vampire power

From TVs and computers to humidifiers and other small appliances, every little bit of energy wasted adds up on your utility bills. Simply turning these small appliances off isn't enough. Just leaving them plugged into a wall outlet or old-school power strip can add as much as $200 to a household’s annual energy bill costs. This passive energy draws from a switched-off but plugged-in appliance is known as vampire power (or phantom loads).  You can keep your bills down to a more manageable level if you fight against it. You can manually go around and unplug all of your appliances when they aren't in use. But, if you don't want to have to remember to unplug the TV every time you use it, get an advanced power strip (APS) instead to save your spare watts.

Are you ready to save?

While doing just one of the tasks listed above can help you save on energy costs, completing all of them will make the biggest impact. If you're concerned about making too big of an upfront investment, the first two steps listed above are likely to give you the best immediate return. The other steps are more likely to pay for themselves over time, which means that if you can’t get to them this winter, you can focus your efforts on light bulbs, appliances, and vampire power in the spring and still reap the benefits.  

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Cristina Miguélez, Guest Poster

Cristina is Remodeling Specialist at Fixr.com, a website that connects consumers with service professionals in their area and estimates the cost for remodeling projects. She writes about home improvement tips and tricks to help homeowners make better home remodeling decisions.