USA Today recently published an article
saying winter energy bills have increased nationwide, anywhere from 5% up to 54% depending on the energy source. On top of that, natural gas, which heats about half of American homes, recently hit a five year high
. If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for warm weather so you can stop worrying about winter energy bills. But even though it can’t be summer all the time, some simple changes can still save you a lot of money:
1. Turn your heat down. No, I’m not saying you have to get used to being cold. But if you turn 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. So try just turning it down while you’re at work. If it’s hard to get into the habit, installing a programmable thermostat can save you the trouble of forgetting to change the temperature.
2. Unplug block-type chargers. Before writing this blog post I didn’t know phone, computer, small appliance, and toy chargers continue to use energy even when the device isn’t plugged in. If the charger is plugged into the wall it is still on and consuming energy even if your device isn’t connected to it. The energy used this way is called the Vampire Load, and costs the average household $200 a year.
3. Check your insulation. While insulation is key to keeping your house warm in the winter, it is just as beneficial in the summer, keeping the heat out. There are several different types of insulation to choose from, and different types work for different spaces, so do your homework. Areas to focus on are your attic, walls and basement.
4. Seal air leaks. Did you know a mere 1/8-inch gap around your door is the equivalent of a 5 ½ inch hole in the wall? Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is a cost-effective way to cut heating and cooling costs. Caulking and weather stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that are relatively quick and simple, and the cost can be made up in savings after one year or less.
5. Maintain your heating and cooling equipment. You should change your air filter at least every 3 months. Dirt in the filter can slow down the air flow and make the system less efficient. Additionally, keeping a clean filter can help keep your heating and cooling system from breaking down and prevent maintenance costs. It’s more efficient to have a professional tune up your HVAC equipment yearly when your heating or cooling system is running correctly.
6. Wash clothes in cold water. Some people believe washing laundry with hot water will kill more germs. While there may be some reasons to wash in hot water, cold has many benefits, not the least of which is saving money. Cold water doesn’t really kill fewer germs than hot (especially when you use cold-water-formulated detergents), and has the added bonus of not shrinking your clothes and not causing stains to set in the fabric and stay forever.
7. Adjust water heater temperature. Did you know you can actually set your water heater to a lower heat? Keep it to the lowest setting that will still allow for comfortable showers and dish-washing.
8. Replace appliances. If you’re feeling bold, replacing your old appliances for new energy efficient ones could add up to long term savings. Did you know side-by-side refrigerators use 10%-25% more energy than the kind with the freezer on top? Plus if your refrigerator is more than 10 years old it could be costing you significantly more in energy costs (in fact, old refrigerators cost consumers $4.4 billion a year). Look for ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerators for the most efficiency.
9. Switch to high efficiency light bulbs. CFL bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs. Switching out just one bulb can save $6 a year in energy costs. CFL bulbs also tend to last much longer than standard incandescent bulbs, and based on a 2007 study conducted by Popular Mechanics, CFLs produced a better quality light than a 75-watt incandescent bulb.
This may seem like a lot, but just making a few of these changes can make a difference in your energy bills. Try it out and see what you think. And please comment with any tips you know of to help the rest of us save a few dollars!