During the winter the heater is turned up, and the utility bill starts to rise. Instead of dealing with the uncomfortable cold and layering on warm clothes, there are steps you can take to increase energy efficiency and decrease consumption. Take the five steps below and you should notice a difference on your next energy bill.
Step #1 – Reset Your Programmable Thermostat
A programmable thermostat is a huge energy saver – if you use it in the right way. What saves energy during the spring and summer isn’t going to increase efficiency during the winter. You’ll need to reset the programmable thermostat or switch it to the winter settings if your thermostat has the feature. You can reduce energy use by 1% for each degree that the temperature is lowered as long as it’s lowered for 8+ hours at a time.
Step #2 – Check Your Water Heater
A lot of attention is given to the energy needed to heat the air inside the home, but you could be wasting energy when you heat the water. The two best ways to reduce water heater energy use is to set the temperature lower and insulate the equipment.
When most water heaters leaves the manufacturing plant it’s set at 140☉ F. That’s actually higher than needed to efficiently heat water, which wastes energy and can be unsafe. To reduce power consumption lower the temperature to 120☉ F.
You can go one step further by checking to see if the water heater needs to be insulated. If the water heater is warm to the touch that means insulating the equipment can help. There are special insulated jackets and covers that are made for water heaters. Just be careful to keep the gauges accessible and make sure it’s a snug fit. You can maximize the energy efficiency by also insulating around the pipes that go from the water heater to the inside. BONUS: insulated pipes are less likely to freeze and burst.
Step #3 – Look for Air Leaks
The furnace can’t efficiently heat your home if air leaks are allowing warm air to escape before it gets inside living spaces. Cold air from the outside can also get inside. Although most air leaks are very small, when a house isn’t sealed well the Department of Energy estimates it can increase energy use by 30%.
All it takes is an hour or two to look for air leaks that can be sealed up with caulk. Air leaks are going to occur where there are seams or cracks. For example, air leaks can exist around exterior vents and where the siding meets at the corners.
If you don’t mind crawling around the attic, check for air leaks in the ductwork. Up to 20% of heated air can leak into the crawl spaces from the ducts. You can seal ducts on your own with specialized tape, but if there are large gaps it may be best to call in a professional to seal everything up. While they’re fixing the leaks ask them to clean out the ducts for extra efficiency.
Step #4 – Cover the Windows to Keep Out the Cold
Windows may be solid glass, but the heat and cold can still get through. This is especially true if they’re older windows that are single pane. Up to 33% of heat loss in a home is due to windows and doors.
To make your windows more energy efficient you can:
- Hang curtains made of heavy fabric.
- Use insulated curtains for even better insulation.
- Keep your curtains open when there’s direct sunlight to benefit from solar energy.
- Close the curtains when the sun sets to reduce heat loss by 10%.
- Hang curtains as close to the window as possible.
Even covering single pane windows with plastic is better than nothing since it creates an additional barrier to keep the cold out and slow heat loss.
Step #5 – Cook With the Season in Mind
The oven accounts for 1-2% of energy use, which might not sound like a lot but can add up. Luckily, there are ways to cook that conserves energy in the winter.
- Turn the burner up high to begin with when you use the range to get food heated quickly, then lower it.
- Cover pots to boil water faster.
- Only use enough water to cover the food you’re cooking.
- Make sure pots and pans are clean before cooking to reduce cook time.
- Choose a small burner when you use a small pot or pan and a big burner for big pots and pans.
- Only open the oven door when necessary to prevent the temperature from dropping as much as 30 degrees.
- Only use the oven when you cook large quantities of food and cook small portions in a toaster oven.
After you’re done cooking in the oven don’t let the heat go to waste. Keep the door open to add a little warmth to the kitchen.
Spark Energy has fixed rate energy plans that make utility bills more predictable even in the coldest months. Use your zip code to see if Spark Energy plans are currently available in your area.