We all know the usual suspects when it comes to spikes in energy spending during winter: air conditioning (or heating appliances) and hot water heaters. Their increased usage forces you to spend more on power bills, but this is not your only issue.
Typically, the solutions to saving on energy during winter involve proper investments. Yes, a big home improvement project (such as an extra layer of insulation on all walls) will lower the long-term expenditure on power bills; however, for some of us, these investments are not an option. Either we rent, and can’t afford to spend on fixing up someone else’s house or apartment, or we don’t have money for such an investment in the first place.
Fortunately, you can save money without throwing more money at the problem. It comes down to new habits, a change in attitude, and a better understanding of the effect your everyday actions have on the power bill. Basically, you can make deliberate decisions to cut or eliminate heating costs.
Join us as we review cheap (and sometimes free) ways to save on energy in winter.
Switch to time-of-use plan for electricity
Every metropolitan area has its own energy consumption patterns. They depend on the time of day, the season, and working hours (or holidays). The periods of decreased consumption are known as non-peak hours, and they are different across states.
Some utilities offer time-of-use (TOU) plans to local users. This means that the energy is billed according to the time when it’s used, and electricity is cheaper in non-peak hours. You need to do some research to explore the local offers. Also, you need to check if you can change your habits of using electricity – for example, if you have toddlers, your energy expenditure is less flexible.
All in all, time-of-use plans can help you save on power bills.
Keep the curtains open during the day
This is one that won’t cost you anything. If you keep the curtains open when there is sunlight, your living space will inevitably absorb more heat. The success of this effort largely depends on the orientation of your home – if your windows are facing South, you will put the principles of passive solar design to work in your favor.
Also, you might want to keep the curtains closed at night. Not because you’re up to some frisky business, but because this will prevent heat from escaping.
Wear season-appropriate clothes
We know, it’s common sense. But most of us continue lounging with minimal clothing, even are temperatures outside drop considerably. Sooner or later, the cold can be felt even at home.
Put on warm socks, a sweater, and all those winter clothes that make you feel cozy. It won’t cost you anything and you might even cheer up. You can keep a blanket on the sofa, to cover up once the cold gets to you. Throw rags on tracks you frequently cross and wear padded slippers to fight off the chill creeping up from the floor (regardless of whether it’s covered in tiles, wood, or something else).
Take a hot water bottle with you to bed
People used to do these things on a regular basis. Instead of cranking up the heating before you go to sleep, you can heat water and put it close to your body until you fall asleep. The cost of heating a bottle of water is way lower than the cost of warming up an entire room.
Just make sure the bottle (or bag) you use is properly covered – you don’t want to burn your skin.
Cover unused doors and windows
This is an alternative to an expensive investment that would make your doors and windows airtight. You can target the windows that aren’t really used during winter in particular. It will cost you, but very little, since you can easily find cheap plastic kits for covering door and window sills at your local home depot. These coverings will eliminate draft and thus prevent heat loss.
If you want to go for an even thriftier option, you can use blankets, rugs, or something along those lines, to block the stream of air.
Lower the temperature on your water heater
It’s recommended to adjust the temperature from 140 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t feel any difference when you use the heated water, but the savings in electricity are substantial. Such appliances are prone to heat loss anyway. Plus, keeping your water heater to maximum output at all times is practically a safety hazard.
Maybe you are tempted to warm up with a long shower, but do your best to resist.
Take shorter showers
Speaking of, you can also cut your usual shower time short. You might think it’s only a few more minutes, but the numbers quickly add up – and this is reflected in the power bill.
Some of you can even brave cold showers for a while. Splashing cold water on your body has a number of health benefits and, in other parts of the world, people pay money to ceremoniously or therapeutically bathe at freezing temperatures.
Of course, this is not for everyone. One piece of moderate advice that would also help cut expenses on personal hygiene is to switch to a more efficient showerhead.
Minimize energy use when no one is at home
There are two particular time slots for wasting energy when no one is around (or active): during the night and when no one is home. If the outside temperatures drop, you need to heat your home, but this doesn’t mean that you need to keep the same inside temperature at all times.
For example, studies show that sleeping in a room with a lower temperature is actually more comfortable. And, if there is a period of the day during which no one is at home, you can bring down room temperature by several degrees without it being an issue for reheating it when you do come back.
Those of you willing to invest (a few hundreds of dollars) can get a programmable thermostat that is used to control room temperature. They also make them smart these days, so you can start increasing the room temperature as you come near to your home.
Don’t let the heat from the oven escape
This advice doesn’t cause any costs since you are cooking anyway. The downside is – it only applies to rooms that are close to the kitchen.
In essence, whenever you are cooking, you keep the oven open after the meal is served. The kitchen appliances aren’t exactly built for heating a room, but there is nothing wrong with making the most of the excess heat. Especially if it translates into lower expenditure for your furnace.
Coordinate the use of a space heater
Portable space heaters are quite popular and you can easily get a low-cost unit. However, if you use them wantonly, they’ll crank up the bills.
The least you can do is to use them only when you are in the room. This is not only energy-efficient, but it can also prevent a hazard. Using a space heater during non-peak hours can also reduce the expense, but this depends on your utility plan.
Turn on the ceiling fan
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? Yes, the ceiling fan can be used to push the hot air from the upper strata in the room towards the floor. The key is to set the fans to rotate clockwise – this will make the room feel warmer, even though you haven’t actually spent money on heating, but rather you have increased the circulation of hot air.
There are a lot of studies on heat loss in residential buildings and most of them identify the doors and the windows as cold bridges. In plain terms, the bulk of the loss happens in and around the sills.
Therefore, every bit of insulation you can add counts. Small cracks in the sills can be covered to create an air seal using silicone, foam, or caulk. This is a very cheap method, and it can be done as a DIY weekend project while potentially saving you money.
Insulate adjacent and service rooms
The best way to insulate a building is to weatherproof doors and windows from the outside. However, if you don’t have the money to undertake a big project, you can significantly reduce heat loss by making adjacent rooms airtight.
We are talking about the attic, the garage, the porch, or any other annex which allows cold air to circulate. You don’t have to go full-on professional – placing blankets or rugs below the doors can keep cold air outside. Fight the draft with whatever resources you have on hand, and this will keep more heat inside the living space.
Optimize washing and drying
There are two aspects to saving on washing clothes. The first one has to do with the temperature of the water, i.e. by using cold water to do your washing, you will reduce the energy expenditure. Then, you can air-dry the clothes and save on the power that would otherwise be spent by the drier.
This advice is not for everyone. The quality of the washing will change, and, most importantly, air-drying clothes within your living space can increase moisture and cause mold formation on the walls. Do the air-drying if you have a separate room with proper ventilation. You don’t want to create new problems while saving on power.
These are some of the most prevalent ways to save on power bills during winter. Chances are, you can start implementing some of them right away, and for free.
Aside from that, you can go for common wisdom on saving that’s been used by previous generations. Some of the solutions are specific for a local area, but you can easily adapt them or follow their underlying principles to keep expenses at a minimum.