How to save money on utilities (even in January)
NOAA’s seasonal forecast for January, February and March continues to call for below-normal temperatures across much of the PNW – and for many of us, that means above-normal energy bills!
Fortunately, you don’t have to break out the indoor mittens to stay warm on a budget. These 12 tips can keep you comfortable until spring and help you avoid money-wasting mistakes:
1. Install a programmable thermostat
It will automatically adjust your home’s temperature when you’re away or sleeping, saving you as much as 10% a year, according to Energystar.gov. That assumes you set the temperature 8 degrees lower for 10 hours a day (while you’re commuting and at work) plus eight hours at night (when you’re asleep). In the summer, you’d need to set the temperature 7 and 4 degrees higher, respectively. People in milder climates generally see bigger savings than those living in more severe conditions. Your utility company might even help you cover the costs of a new thermostat. Enter your ZIP code in the green Rebate Finder box to see deals in your area.
2. Buy the right programmable thermostat
Make sure it’s compatible with your heating system. Most are designed for forced-air furnaces. If you use a heat pump, wall heaters or radiant heat, check with a heating and cooling professional before you buy.
Also, pay only for features you’ll use. Some smart thermostats have occupancy sensors that adjust the temperature when they detect that you’re there. Many also allow you to change the temperature from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. If those features don’t sound like something you’d use, choose a more basic model.
3. Use your programmable thermostat correctly
Keep the temperature at its set points for at least four hours. That helps eliminate swings where the furnace is constantly ramping up then backing off.
Choose the location carefully. Don’t mount the thermostat in direct sunlight or near doorways, drafts, skylights and windows that can throw off its sensor. Also, don’t allow furniture to block natural air movement.
Avoid temptations to tinker. Thermostats come with an override feature so you can temporarily reset the heat without undoing the main program. For maximum efficiency, save that for real exceptions like vacations.
4. Change furnace filters monthly
A clean filter helps your furnace work more efficiently, meaning it will use less energy (and last longer). Since furnaces get their heaviest use in winter, change filters monthly or as recommended by the manufacturer.
5. Close your woodburning fireplace damper when you’re not using it
That reduces heat loss through the chimney flue (make sure the fire is completely out and ashes are cold before you close it). Gas fireplace dampers must remain open at all times. Close glass fireplace doors for extra heat-savings.
6. Run your ceiling fan clockwise
That pushes warm air down into the room. Reverse the direction in spring when the weather warms up to cool the room.
7. Make sure your attic and crawlspace are well insulated
Adequate insulation helps prevent frigid outside air from freezing pipes along exterior walls. It also keeps indoor heat from leaking through unheated attics and rising to the roof. That’s an important defense against ice dams, in which gutters freeze solid and, with nowhere to go, meltwater from the too-warm roof backs up under shingles and penetrates walls, causing damage. This EnergyStar map shows recommended insulation levels for your area. For help determining your home’s potential savings, check out this free tool created for the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
8. Caulk and add weather stripping around doors and windows
You’ll cut heat loss by as much as 25%. While it’s best to apply latex caulk between 40 and 80 degrees F., silicone caulk can dry even in freezing weather as long as the surface is frost-free and dry.
9. Hang cold- and heat-blocking drapes
Keep heat in during winter and out during summer when you replace sheer curtains or lightweight blinds. Heavy, insulating drapes are a second line of defense after ensuring you have good caulking and weather stripping around doors and windows. And a bonus to look forward to? They’ll block the light and help you sleep in on spring weekend mornings when the sun rises early!
On sunny winter days, be sure to open your drapes during the day on south-facing windows so you can take advantage of natural free heating from the sun.
10. Switch to modern showerheads
Federal regulations limit showerhead flow to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less. Many showerheads made before 1992 had flow rates of 5.5 gpm, so if your older home still has its original plumbing fixtures, switching showerheads could cut your water use in half. Less water also means lower water-heating costs – no need to skimp on hot showers!
11. Use the dishwasher
Dishwashers manufactured after 2013 can clean a whole load of dishes with just five gallons of water, compared with the 27 gallons it would likely take to wash them by hand. Just make sure to fill up the dishwasher before you run it. Also, many newer dishwashers heat the water themselves, which is more efficient than drawing it from your hot water heater.
12. Adjust your water heater’s temperature
Use a kitchen thermometer to test the temperature of the hot water coming out of your tap. To prevent scalding injuries, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends 120 degrees at the faucet (your water heater may need to be set higher than 120, since water can lose heat as it travels through the system). If you can decrease your tank’s temperature from where it’s set now, you’ll save energy and reduce water-heating costs.
A word of caution: Don’t be tempted to turn down your water heater too much. That could allow dangerous bacteria like Legionella to grow. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends tank temperatures of 140 degrees, at least for multifamily residences.
Do you have an energy-saving tip you’d like to share? Please tell us about it in Comments.
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