Ask Phil: Insider Tricks For Reducing Your Utility Bill
Winter is tough. Our ancestors had to store ample food and firewood to survive the winter months, and now similarly, we have to budget our money for the increase in costs that come with winter. Added hours of darkness and colder temperatures demand we rely on artificial light and heat more than in warmer months.
Because I’m in the business, a lot of people ask me about saving money on energy costs during the winter to put less strain on their budgets. The simple answer is: turn the heat down. Keeping your house at 70 degrees costs more than keeping it at 68 degrees. However, you may still be paying more to keep your home at 68 degrees if you’re entire heating and cooling system isn’t working efficiently—and in this case, the entire system means everything related to keeping your house comfortable.
Now, it’s time to get resourceful like the homesteaders of yesteryear and start checking off this to-do list of insider tricks for lowering your utility bill.
Check the energy efficiency of your equipment
Find all your major appliances, including ductless mini-splits and heat pumps, and ensure they have an Energy Star label, which guarantees the equipment meets or exceeds the federal minimum standards for energy efficiency.
Then, identify the seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) of the HVAC equipment. The most efficient units will have the highest SEER ratings, which mean the higher the SEER, the less energy it takes to run.
If your existing equipment doesn’t have either of these labels, consider budgeting for an upgrade now to save in the future. Appliances account for roughly 13% of a home’s total energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, so it will be a smart investment in long-term savings.
To the naked eye, the holes may appear to be sealed by windows and doors. On a cold, blustery day, the naked skin feels differently.
A house shouldn’t be “drafty.” Building material technology and engineering makes it possible for even older homes to be climate controlled to today’s comfort standards.
To avoid the problems of moisture build up, it’s good for filtered air to be introduced and vented out properly, to be clear, this example addresses uncontrolled heat loss.
The federal energy department estimates up to 25% of a homeowner’s heating costs are directly due to warm air escaping.
Ideally, you want to get a home energy audit from your local utility company. There are many incentive programs to replace windows, add insulation, and make other improvements that will make your more energy efficient.
If you need immediate help so your skirt doesn’t blow up when you walk by the front door, there are many simple improvements you can make to get started.
Any home improvement or hardware store should have window insulation kits, which enable you to shrink fit a plastic film sheet over the interior window. In the spring, when it’s time to open the window, again, the disposable sheet easily comes off.
Make sure the flue of your chimney is closed when you’re not burning wood. Leaving it open has the same effects of leaving a window open—all that paid-for heat blows right up the chimney!
While you’re at the store, pick up some weather stripping for that drafty door. It can be as easy to use as cut, peel, and stick around the door stop. Similar weather stripping made for windows can also be used on newer, double-paned windows that need a little tightening up.
Give your furnace regular TLC
It’s not a gimmick— furnaces, heat pumps, air handlers, and all other HVAC components that receive regular maintenance services extend the lifespan of the equipment. You can expect your gas- or oil-fired furnace to give you 15 to 20 years of service, according to the experts at This Old House.
If your furnace is older than when the Energy Star program began in 1992, you could be paying as much 20% more in heating costs.
Like many other machines in your life, from your car to your lawnmower, your HVAC system performs at a noticeably more efficient level when it gets regular cleanings and care. Changing the air filter can help prevent breakdowns and get the highest level of efficiency out of your unit. Regular inspections can also catch small problems with equipment before they turn into costly ones. Scheduled maintenance appointments with a factory-trained technician who can properly tune up your equipment can save you up to 5% on heating costs right away.
Only heat what you need
Winter is a tough time for everything living in areas that experience extreme seasonal cold temperatures. The double whammy of little food and the need for more energy to stay warm can be brutal. Like the creatures who hibernate through it all, conservation is the key to keeping energy costs down.
Don’t be afraid to wear warm clothes inside. It can be fun to snuggle under a blanket on the couch with your honey and kids. How much fun? For every degree you drop your thermostat between 60- and 70-degrees, you lower heating costs by 5%, according to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, which suggests keeping your home at a maximum setting of 68 degrees during the day.
Consider alternative forms of heat, such as sunlight! You don’t need solar panels to benefit from the sun’s natural warming energy. The same heat blazing on the south-facing side of your home in the summer can ease the burden on your furnace or