Give yourself a present of long-term savings this holiday season by making your home more energy efficient. A few practical improvements will mean a lower heating bill and more dollars in your wallet.
The U.S. Department of Energy says a homeowner may pay 30 percent more than necessary for heating if their home isn’t properly insulated. If you feel drafts or cold spots in your home, then you probably need more insulation. The Energy Information Administration estimates there are millions of homeowners across the country with drafty homes.
The easiest place to add more insulation is the attic, where heating dollars can escape through the roof. Insulation effectiveness is measured in R-value, and the Energy Department recommends an R-38 level for the attic. One of the most common types of loose-fill insulation, and one of the most effective materials, is cellulose. It has an R-value of 3.5 per inch. Also check the insulation in walls and unheated areas, like basements and crawlspaces.
You can make your home more energy efficient by thinking small. Look for the small cracks around doors and windows that let cold air in and your heat out. If you can feel cool air coming through the edges of your windows or from under your doors, add caulk or weatherstripping to seal out the cold. Air infiltration can account for half the heating costs in a leaky home.
If your home has single-paned windows, consider upgrading to windows with double-paned glass. You can also add storm windows to single-paned varieties. An even lower-cost way to make your home warmer: add plastic sheeting over the windows.
Heating, and cooling, your home takes up the largest portion of your utility bill, accounting for about 56 percent of the total. Taking steps to make your heating system more energy efficient can have a major impact on lowering your costs. If you see a sudden rise in your monthly bill, that could be a sign of problems with your heating system, says Todd Claiborne, an energy advisor with Jackson Energy Cooperative.
Claiborne and other cooperative advisors regularly conduct home energy audits. One of the most common culprits they see for high bills is the heating system. Check ductwork to make sure there are no holes or leaks pumping warm air in unconditioned crawlspaces or other areas.
Your heating system will operate more efficiently if you clean or replace the filter once a month. It’s also a good idea to have your system inspected every year or so by a professional to make sure it’s operating properly. Low levels of Freon, dirty filters, and leaks in the ductwork are just a few of the areas they are trained to check and repair.
A programmable thermostat is another tool for saving energy. By programming your thermostat to automatically lower the room temperature from 72°F to 66°F when you’re sleeping or not at home, you can save up to 10 percent on your heating bill.
Another major use of energy is the water heater. It usually accounts for about 14 percent of your utility bill, says the Energy Department. Ways to save on water heating include:
- Lower the temperature on the water heater thermostat. A setting of 115°F provides a comfortable setting for most uses.
- Drain a quart of water from your water heater tank every three months to remove sediment. Sediment will lower the efficiency of the water heater.
- Insulate the water heater tank.
- Install aerating low-flow faucets and showerheads. A family of four, says the Energy Department, each showering five minutes a day, uses 700 gallons of water a week. You can cut that amount in half with low-flow showerheads and faucets.
And while you may be heating with electricity or some other energy source, don’t forget to use solar power this winter. Open curtains when the sun is shining and keep them closed on cloudy days.
Home energy cost-reduction checklist
- Check insulation, especially in attic and basement
- Seal cracks around windows and doors
- Consider more energy-efficient windows
- Inspect heating system and ductwork
- Consider a programmable thermostat
- Increase the efficiency of your water heater