Tips to Stay Warm and Save Energy

The easiest and lowest-cost way to save money on heating is to keep your thermostat as low as your comfort will allow. Adding a layer, slippers, a hat, or a lap dog can keep you comfortable in a cooler home.

Q: My winter energy bills are typically higher. Can you offer advice on how to lower bills during colder months?.

A: Cold weather can increase energy use and bills since heating accounts for the highest wintertime energy consumption in most homes. The amount of energy used to heat your home depends on your equipment, how you use it, and the efficiency of your home’s shell — the building components that separate the indoors from the outdoors.

It’s important to know how your home is heated so you can make informed decisions on your energy use. It also helps you prepare for upcoming bills and avoid surprises that impact your budget. A forced-air furnace is the most common type of heating system and is fueled by natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity. Heat pumps are growing in popularity and are available for forced-air systems. If you have a forced-air system, check the filter regularly and replace it when it’s dirty. Ductless heat pumps, boilers, radiant heat, baseboard heaters, and electric resistance heaters are other common types of heating systems.

If you don’t know what type of system you have, find the model number of your equipment and look it up online. You’ll find information about the kind of system, how efficiently it operates, and recommendations for servicing it, which can improve system efficiency.

We use energy to make our homes comfortable. The easiest and lowest-cost way to save money on heating is to keep your thermostat as low as your comfort will allow.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends a thermostat setting of 68 degrees in the winter while you are awake and lower when you are asleep or away from home. Keep in mind that setting the temperature too low can cause pipes to freeze.

Adding an additional layer of clothing, slippers, or a hat can keep you comfortable in a cooler home.

Do you use electric resistance space heaters to heat a room or small section of your home? If so, you may see an increase on your electric bill. For example, let’s say you use a 1,500-watt electric space heater to warm your living room while you watch TV or read a book. Operating that space heater for two hours each day at the U.S. average electricity rate of about 16 cents per kilowatt-hour will cost about $15 per month. Operating that same space heater for 12 hours each day will cost about $90 per month.

If you choose to use space heaters, use them safely. Keep them 3 feet away from anything flammable, do not leave them unattended, and plug them directly into the outlet — not an extension cord or power strip.

Just as we put on a windbreaker to keep cold winds from blowing through a sweater, your home also benefits from blocking air movement. Air-sealing can make a big improvement in the comfort of your home as well as provide energy savings. A common air sealing practice is applying weatherstripping to exterior doors and windows. You can also seal around plumbing penetrations to help eliminate drafts. A gap often exists between the drywall or wood and the plumbing pipes and drains. Filling these gaps with expanding foam can reduce drafts in bathrooms and kitchens.

Cold, windy winter days are the perfect time to find opportunities for air sealing. Rattling doors or moving curtains can indicate air leakage. Air leakage can occur where two different materials come together, such as drywall and trim work. Cracked plaster and gaps in drywall can also cause drafts. Sealing the gaps saves energy and improves comfort.

As outdoor temperatures dip this winter, take a few proactive steps to maintain comfort in your home and keep your energy bill in check.

Miranda Boutelle is the chief operating officer at Efficiency Services Group in Oregon, a cooperatively owned energy-efficiency company. She has more than 20 years of experience helping people save energy at home.