Along with chilled air, icy drafts, and the sight of smoke curling above chimney tops, expect winter to bring higher energy bills as more Americans continue to work and shelter from home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to energystar.gov, a typical household in the U.S. spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills.1 Of these costs, about 42% goes toward heating and cooling.2 The good news is that you may be able to substantially reduce these costs with some easy-to-implement measures.
Inside your home
Use a properly set programmable thermostat, which can reduce energy usage 10-30% on your heating and cooling bills. Set the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and lower it while you’re asleep or away from home.
Knowing the ideal home temperature and using your thermostat correctly won’t matter if you place it in the wrong part of your home. An interior wall, ideally near the center of the house, is the best place for your thermostat. Also, keep in mind which rooms people use most since these are the rooms where you want the temperature to be the most comfortable.
Check for air leaks by placing a lit candle next to doors, windows, fireplace dampers, wall-mounted air conditioning units, and mail slots to see if the flame flickers (be sure to keep away from drapes and other flammable materials during testing). Apply weather-stripping and caulk around doors and windows to plug holes. Pre-foam gaskets work well to stop drafts from passing through light switches.
Set your ceiling fan at its slowest speed and reverse its rotation to blow upward, pushing warm air down from the ceiling without generating a breeze.
Don’t blast the heat before bed; instead, use a hot water bottle to preheat your bed (and even your pet’s bed). Water has more mass than air, so it stays warmer longer.
Consider replacing any heating system older than 15 years. New systems are much more energy efficient.
Replace your heater’s air filter monthly so the system can work with less effort and consume less energy.
Keep vents and baseboard heaters clear of furniture and other impediments.
Use Energy Star products. Household appliances carrying efficiency guidelines meet strict energy guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. In 2018 alone, the Energy Star program helped Americans save $35 billion in energy costs. You will also be doing your part to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Along with escalating heating costs, homeowners will face rising utility bills from the use of holiday lights, kitchen appliances, and constant cooking. But you can still enjoy being home for the holidays while keeping energy costs to a minimum. Here’s how.
Use LED holiday bulbs to decorate your home and tree. Large, traditional bulbs used year after year burn a lot of energy — up to 10 watts per bulb — while LED bulbs use up to 99% less energy.
Use an automatic timer to avoid leaving your lights on all night, and make sure the lights contain the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, which means they meet UL safety requirements.
For stovetop cooking, use a pan that matches the size of your burner. A 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes more than 40% of the energy.
Cook several items at the same time while your oven is on.
When cooking, don’t open the oven to peek at the food. This lowers the temperature up to 25 degrees, increasing cooking time and wasting energy.
Use microwaves whenever you can because they consume about 50% less energy than conventional ovens.
Save your dishwasher by recruiting your guests to wash and dry dishes after holiday meals.
For more information about cutting winter energy costs, visit the Alliance to Save Energy (www.ase.org), which features an interactive Home Energy Checkup. Homefree (www.homefree.com) and Energy Star (energystar.gov) are good sources of information as well.
For making your home more energy-efficient, including the addition of energy-sipping appliances, consider the use of a reverse mortgage loan. It is available only to those 62 or older with substantial equity in the home they own and use as their primary residence. If you meet these eligibility standards, a reverse mortgage loan could help you continue enjoying your home and substantial energy savings.
Furthermore, a reverse mortgage loan will pay off your current mortgage if you still have one on your home, with your remaining equity paid out to you in tax-free cash to use however you wish, including making other key home improvements and renovations. If you choose, you also don’t have to pay back your reverse mortgage until you leave the home. However, you are still responsible for maintaining the home and paying your property taxes and homeowners insurance.
Enjoying your home to the fullest while also saving money. That’s a wonderful winter goal that you just might want to extend to all seasons of the year.