So yesterday we turned on our heat for the first time this year. Once the house got down to 63 degrees and everyone was bundled but still cold, we thought “Ok, ok…. we’ll turn it on already.” Well, yesterday, we also had our first snow: it didn’t stick but we knew with the flakes it was time to turn on the heater.
I also announced to the family a few days ago, “Enjoy this weather as in a few days the highs will be in the 40’s…”
Well, that day has come and so with the snow, 40’s for the highs and having to turn on the heat, it reminds me of all of the ways we can save on our heating bills.
Well, you may be thinking the same thing right now too and trying to figure out how you can keep it low to keep your budget in check. There are a few things you can do and so I wanted to share our thoughts with you.
Heating is essential, but it is also a costly utility. It’s funny, when we were in debt, I use to think that we would have so much money as we wouldn’t hardly have any bills. But even though we are debt-free now and paying a significant amount of less money each month – I still have money going out the door just to live. Sure, we seem to be able to keep our grocery bill low and controllable, but to pay the water, garbage, sewage, heating/cooling, electric bill, phone bills, internet bills….. you get the picture….. it still adds up and it isn’t debt that we can happily watch whittle away. We have to pay it to live.
So anywhere that we can find to make it more palatable is a good thing. We play a game at our house where we see if we can beat the usage by making it less than it was at this time last year. It’s a fun game, but it is getting very difficult to play this game and win now that our family is growing and we have 7 people, many more rooms that need heating as we are all over the house, and 7 people turning on lights, opening doors, taking hot baths (not sure why Cassie introduced our girls to hot baths:)) and so on. I don’t think we are going to win this year.
But even with that, there are many possible ways to save and to cut back. We are going to share some ideas in hopes that some of these will help you reduce your heating bill this year!
To make this easy, I am going to break it down by category!
Free things you can do around your house:
- Set your thermostat at around 68 – 70 degrees while at home and lower when you are away and at night. This is a good idea for a few reasons. First, you will save money. In fact, according to energy.gov, “By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.” Most of us sleep for 8, hours and many homes are empty for around 5-8 hours during the day. We keep ours at 68 – 70 degrees during the day and we have a bunch of little kids that cannot retain their body heat as easily as older kids and adults and our home is never empty. If anyone does leave during the day, it is for short periods. We keep our temperatures down to 65 – 68 degrees at night as this is a comfortable temperature for our family. We bundle well for sleeping, but not only does this save money, but there are a couple of other health factors in a lower sleeping temperature. Both the Sleep Foundation and Mayo Clinic suggest cooler sleeping temperatures to get better sleep and more healthy sleep. So do yourself a favor and save money while you literally get a better nights rest Also, another benefit of keeping temperatures under 70 degrees all of the time is that germs and bacteria grow at a slower rate than in warmer temperatures. We have read and heard that the ideal temperatures for germs and bacteria to multiply are between 70 F and 100 F. So if anything, you can also be slowing down the growth and multiplication of germs and bacteria.
- Create your own draft blocker by sticking old rolled up towels/rags at the bases of your doors and windows if you feel any air leakage in any of those places. Keep the hot air in and the cold air out!
- Keep your heating vents and air registers clear and clean so that they can function at top efficiency.
- Use window coverings and curtains wisely! Depending on the direction your home faces, fashion your plan to be that as the sun comes up and down, open and close curtains and window coverings accordingly. As I mentioned earlier, we have a north facing house, and so the back of our house where there are many windows and doors, gets very warm, even in the winter with snow all around. We open the window covering up during the heat of the day and it can literally bring the temperature up by several degrees. Of course, as the sun goes down, we close them to retain the heat. Use the same concepts around your house to warm it up naturally by the sun.
- Close off vents and doors to rooms and areas of the house that are hardly used. There is no need to heat a room or section of your house that rarely gets used. In our case, our two levels are both well used by all, but our basement is a different story – we don’t heat it. If we do use the basement in the winter time, we use a space heater for the time we are there. Also, place a rolled up towel in front of the door leading to the basement or other room(s) that you are not using and heating to keep the cold temps from that room or section of your house coming into the other well used warmer parts.
- Of course, if you are leaving town, set the temperature low, like 60 – 65 degrees or lower!
- Check your water heater temperature. 120 degrees is most ideal for most families. We are on that end as we have 7 of us, we need more hot water than many families, but it is still something to check regularly.
- Utilize the heat from your oven. We do more oven baking and cooking in the cooler temps – partly to keep the house cool in the summer, but in the winter, when we use the oven, we keep the door open for about 20 minutes after taking the food out and let the heat escape into the house. We can easily block off our kitchen area where the stove is to protect the little kids from the hot oven, but it makes for an extra way to turn up the heat and do double duty!
Things you can do for yourself/family:
- First, socks are the most important has heat escapes from your feet (and hands and head, but not practical to wear hats and gloves all day in the house) and so this is a super simple way to help warm up everyone nicely.
- Dress in layers – put on a sweatshirt as the most basic layer. As the day warms up, you can un-bundle as needed.
- Drink something warm to warm-up your internal body temperature. Hot coffee, hot tea, hot cocoa, etc.
- Work and sit in front of a south-facing window or door. We have many opportunities for this in our house. We have many south-facing windows and doors and so it works well to have the kids do their homework in front of these windows during the day.
Very affordable and smart investments we recommend help with lowering heating costs:
- One of the smartest things that you can do is to invest in a programmable thermostat. This helps you to actually and easily regulate those temperatures we were talking about in the free list. We actually have told you about a nice one that is 50% off with free shipping. This Thermostat has nearly 5 star reviews out of 5 stars from 206 reviewers. It is normally $75.76, but on sale for $38.42 with free shipping too! Programmable thermostats are VERY EASY to install and operate. It is a good small investment to make. You can see this thermostat on Amazon HERE. They claim that this alone will reduce your heating bill by 33%!
- If you are single or just a few of you, consider using a space heater for the bulk of your heating needs. We use to use space heaters more, but now that we are a family of 7 and everyone is all over the place, it isn’t practical on a normal basis. We use them on occasion for specific needs as they do work well. You can get a good deal on a new 1500 w portable and efficient space heater on Amazon where it is normally $35 and really good reviews, but is on sale for around $19 with free shipping for prime members or a $25 or more order. We researched many space heaters and this looks like one of the be values for an easy portable, yet good space heater. You can see this Space Heater on Amazon HERE.
- Change your furnace air filters regularly. This will do two things: improve efficiency of your unit and keep your family healthier. These filters are $3 – $15, but the small investment will save your furnace, improve heating efficiency and keep your family healthier with cleaner air flowing through.
- Purchase door and or window draft guards. You can get these for less than $10 online at Amazon and all over town at places like Lowe’s and Walmart.
- Install/replace door sweeps. Similar to the draft guards, but more permanent. I like draft guards in addition to door sweeps. Double protection. They are also less than $10 online at Amazon and in stores all around town too! They are very easy and quick to install.
- Insulation for ducts. If you have any exposed heating ducts in your home, garage, attic, basement, etc., you might want to consider wrapping them in insulation. It is an affordable and easy fix and could yield the savings quickly.
- Furnace check-ups and maintenance - just as we shared with maintenance on the family mini-van, paying a small fee to have your furnace serviced yearly or bi-annually could help preserve the life and efficiency of your unit.
- Invest and install the thick plastic to windows and open fireplaces that you are not using. This thick plastic is an affordable option for retaining heat and keeping cold out. It is the stuff that they use at construction sites to continue working in all weather. It is affordable and quite effective! As an example, Lowe’s sells 10ft x 100ft. for $60 and Amazon sells a 10×25 ft that is on sale for $16.53 with free shipping. It is also a good idea to have this on hand in case of emergencies to provide a temporary covering for windows and doors.
- Consider getting a blower for fireplaces. We have especially noted that in newer homes or newer fireplaces, they are quite often for aesthetic looks only. To actually make it a practical tool, you may need to add a blower to it. We had this issue and did not realize it for a couple of years. It seemed silly to us that it really wasn’t doing much good with this home until it had that. We wondered why anyone would put one in that didn’t have a true heating function! Then we found out that many new homes and new fireplaces are this way. So you may want to look at this option. You can get blowers for about $100 and then they will blow the heat out into your home.
- Run your fans to circulate the heat (the opposite direction than you do in summer!). This keeps the heat recirculating and the heating cycle more efficient in your home.
Larger investments that will pay for themselves over time:
- If you have an old or non-efficient furnace, consider getting a new furnace! The cost of running an older unit is quite a bit more than a new or energy efficient one. It will take a few years or more to recover the costs, but something worth considering in the long run. Also, government programs as well as utility companies often offer rebates for choosing a more energy efficient appliances (often furnaces are included!).
- Buy a wood-burning stove. This may or may not be of benefit to your family. It will depend on several factors (cost of current heat vs. cost of unit and wood in your area). But there are many homes and many frugal families that swear by a wood burning stove. It is something to seriously consider and research in your area.
- Consider adding more insulation in your home. We did this a few years ago. It seemed to have helped some, but not as much as we were rooting for. However, we did it when we received both a cash rebate from our gas company (this is for Idaho and Utah, but your state may have something similar) and a Federal and/or State Income Tax rebate for installing additional insulation. This whole project was around $500, but all but about $75 was given back to us in our rebates. But either way, we recommend researching this option and calling around for quotes and even ask home insulation installers if they know of rebates in your area.
- Consider investing in Solar Heat Panels – this is something that we are currently researching and considering about doing ourselves as one of our next big financial goals for 2013. Not only can you save money, but you will also have heat in cases of emergencies.
- Install storm doors and windows. We have looked at this ourselves and don’t find this to be cost efficient and good investment for us at this time, but perhaps further down the road. We think it is smart, but we have other financial priorities that puts this towards the bottom of our list. However, it is something to look into!
If you are looking to change out a furnace or system for heating, one final thing to research and investigate is what form of heating is going to be best and most cost efficient for your home in your area. There is a chart put out by the Department of Energy that compares the costs of heating with different methods. It is an interesting and potentially very helpful resource. You can see this Heating Costs Calculator here.
As far as how much you will save, well that is going to vary greatly for each household as there are several factors that play into this. But by incorporating a few of the tips above, especially the first three lists, you may be able to drop your bill by 30-50% pretty easily!
So whether you just make a few small changes this year with the free options, or choose to invest more, we hope you will see your heating bill decrease and your budget blessed!