Stay Warm, Save Money: 17 Easy Ways to Use Less Energy This Winter

The mild weather of fall is just beginning, bringing a pleasant break from summer sun. But if last winter’s energy bills are still showing up in your nightmares, you’re probably thinking about the bitter cold to come in a few months and what you can do to combat it without breaking your budget. Thankfully, there are many simple ways to stay warm without using hundreds of dollars’ worth of gas or electricity. Most of the items in the list below take just a few moments and cost little to nothing. Besides that, they can help make your winter cozy and comfortable.

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  • Heat the room you’re in. During the day when bedrooms are mostly empty and you’re spending your time in the living room or kitchen, ensure that thermostats in unused rooms are set at lower temperatures, around 60-62°F. Shut vents in those rooms so the hot air is redirected. Close bathroom and bedroom doors so that less heat escapes into them. Use a space heater if you really need it wherever you’re spending your time. If your home is usually empty all day, make it part of your morning routine to set the temperature lower before you leave. Consider a programmable thermostat, or utilize the timing functions on yours if you have one already. Depending on your energy provider, you may even get rewarded for it.
  • Keep nights cool. When you go to bed, leave your thermostats set low and find alternative warming methods. Flannel sheets and pajamas are comfortable, effective, and low-cost. Sleep in wool socks or even a hat. Find a thick quilt or comforter for the season, and add fleece blankets to trap even more body heat. Remember, you can always shed layers during the night if you get too warm.
  • Soak up some sun. Especially if you have south facing windows, make sure that they are uncovered when the sun is up to let in the natural warmth from our life-giving star. Do this even if you aren’t at home or aren’t in that room so that when you are, you can take advantage of the free trapped heat. After sunset, close blinds or curtains to stop warmth from escaping.
  • Build a better bundle. You may think of coming home as a time get undressed and unwind, but in the winter, think of it as a time to get re-dressed. Long-sleeves and sweaters are meant to be worn. Add fleece-lined leggings or long underwear under lounge pants or jeans around the house. Get a few pairs of cozy socks or fuzzy slippers, and have plenty of throw blankets ready when hanging out on the couch.
  • Move heat, not more heat. Heat rises. This is a simple fact of science. A simple fact of homes is that most of them have ceiling fans. If yours does, remember that in addition to cooling you off in the summer, they can be used to push warm air back down into the room in the winter. Make sure they are turning slowly clockwise to most effectively warm the room. Do this only when there are people around to feel the benefits; otherwise, you’re just wasting electricity.
  • Find the winter feng shui. Arrange your furniture so that your air vents are unblocked and heat is flowing freely throughout your home. This tip seems obvious once you think about it, but you may not realize that even if the couch is a few inches away from the register, not covering it, the flow may still not be optimal.
  • Make small insulation changes. Consider covering windows with tight-fitting plastic or insulating drapes if they are particularly drafty. For a long-term solution with more upfront expense, think about installing storm windows. Find inexpensive weather stripping for the spaces around doors and windows that let in nippy breezes. Your energy company may provide free door sweeps for the spaces under exterior doors. Ask them before you purchase one yourself. If you can’t get to the store, roll up old towels to place in and around cracks. Look for any unfinished or leaky areas of your home, like those behind closets or gaps in utility pipes, and use caulk or stripping to seal them. Even a simple area rug on the floor can add insulation and warmth to a chilly space.
  • Refit the outlets. Believe it or not, some heat loss can occur through your outlets, especially if they are not well-fitted into your wall. Turn off the power before adding pre-made foam gaskets and child-safe plugs to eliminate this problem.
  • Remember the attic. The attic is where your heat will ultimately rise before it escapes into the frigid outdoors, so make sure this area is well insulated all around, including floors, ceiling, and windows. Attic doors are often overlooked in this process, so be sure to prevent any drafts in yours if you don’t mind your attic getting a bit cold throughout the season.
  • Basements matter, too. Although most of the heat goes up, that doesn’t mean none of it will escape through your basement. Either finish your basement, making it another livable, fully insulated space in your home, or just insulate the ceiling and let the area below stay cool. If nothing else, make sure the basement door is kept closed and the spaces around it are sealed.
  • Don’t exhaust the exhaust. Those fans in your kitchen and bathroom are great for clearing out smoke and steam, but that means they also remove the warm air that has risen near them. Use these fans sparingly, and turn them off as soon as the smoky, smelly air has cleared.
  • Clean heat is efficient heat. Ensure that your heating system has been cleaned and serviced recently. Dirty furnace filters should be replaced immediately, so check them every month. You can even install a filter alarm if you like. If you have a wood- or pellet-burning heater, clean the inside with a wire brush often. Registers and vents should be cleaned with a vacuum before the dust blocks airflow.
  • Warm water is warm enough. If your hot water ever gets hot enough to scald you, your water heater might be set too high. You probably never need water from the faucet to be over the standard warm setting of 120°F, so make the switch today, and start saving money and energy.
  • Deck the halls with LED. Make sure your holiday decorations—especially all those light bulbs—are energy efficient. LED bulbs use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times as long as older bulbs, and while you may have already replaced a lot of the regular lighting in your home, you may not have thought to replace those strings of decorative lights that you detangle from their boxes year after year. Now is the time to do it, in the name of energy savings.
  • New appliances, new savings. If you’ve been thinking about replacing your refrigerator, dishwasher, or another large appliance, now is a good time to invest in a product with an Energy Star label. Most new refrigerators use about one third less energy than those of the early 2000’s anyway, and Energy Star refrigerators use another nine percent less than that. Energy Star washers use 25 percent less energy—and 33 percent less water—than other current models. When replacing a water heater, think about an efficient tankless version that heats water on demand rather than storing a tank full of hot water at all times. You can also save on your heating bill with an Energy Star furnace if your old heater is ready for a replacement.
  • Fires are hot, chimneys are cold. There’s nothing like a warm fire on a frosty evening, and if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace in your home, you should definitely take advantage of it. When you get the wood burning nicely, you can turn the thermostat down around 50°F and sit close by with a warm mug and your favorite blanket, counting all the dollars you’re not spending on utilities. However, fireplaces come with a lot of energy risks, too. Make sure you close the damper whenever the flames are finished to prevent heat loss. Tempered glass doors and a well-installed fireplace insert can help keep the heat where you want it. If you know you’ll never use your fireplace, be sure to seal the chimney as low as possible.
  • Take oven opportunities. Anytime you bake, remember to leave the oven open as it cools down to allow the heat to escape into the room. Although it probably won’t save energy to run the oven for heat when you’re not using it to cook, it does help to take advantage of the heat you’ve already produced.
  • Don’t forget year-round tips. It’s just as important to switch off lights, unplug unused devices, and turn off televisions in the winter as it is throughout the year. Don’t run the washer, dryer, or dishwasher until you have a full load. Look for energy-saving power strips for areas of your home where you like to keep multiple items plugged in all the time.