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Home Care Library

Low-Cost Ways to Save Energy This Winter


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Some energy-saving projects take several years to payback the cost of doing them. Well here are six ways to save energy this winter, that will save you more than their cost in just one heating season.
 

# 1: Turn down your thermostat

 

Cost

: zero out of pocket costs

Expected savings

: up to $70 annually

Time required

: few seconds

Level of difficulty

: easy

For every degree that you lower your thermostat over the winter, you can reduce your energy bill by about 3-5%. For an average winter fuel bill of $900, this means $27-$45 per degree!

There are three time periods for which you can consider turning down your thermostat:

  • when you are away from home.

  • when you are sleeping at night.

  • mornings and evenings when you are home.


There is a common myth that when you reduce your thermostat, that it takes more energy to bring back up your home's temperature that what you saved by reducing the temperature. According to the Department of Energy, this is not so. Dropping your thermostat down allows your furnace to work less hard than when your home is set for a higher temperature, and this savings is more than the energy it takes to later warm your house back up.
 

#2: Make sure that your dryer vent flap is not stuck open

 

Cost

: $0-$25 ($25 if you replace your vent with an efficient one)

Expected savings

: up to $120 annually

Time required

: 15 -30 minutes.

Level of difficulty

: easy-moderate

You know all that lint that you pull out of your dryer screen before or after each load? Well, a lot of it makes it through your screen and begins to plug up your dryer vent pipe (which is why if you use our automatic reminders, that we include a reminder in August to clean this vent pipe every year!). Despite careful cleaning once a year, the lint build-up on your dryer vent flap (on the outside wall of your house) can cause this vent flap to stick open, which allows cold air (and potentially pests) to enter your house. The more it is stuck open, the more energy you are losing. Even if stuck open only a quarter of an inch, you are still throwing money away. So a quick check of your dryer vent is another good way to save on your energy bill for no cost.

Sometimes the problem is more than just lint build-up, and it can be that your flapper is not sealing properly. If this is the case, then you will probably want to replace the vent and flapper. And iff you do, you should consider replacing it with a high-efficiency vent. You can find these on Amazon.com for under $20: HEARTLAND 21000 Dryer Vent Closure
 

# 3 : Find the worst energy leak in your house and plug it.

 

Cost

: 0 -$20

Expected savings:

up to $140 annually for an average home.

Time required:

30 minutes

Level of difficulty:

easy-moderate

Of course it would be nice to have a professional come in to do a full energy audit on your home, and to identify all the places where you could benefit from adding weather-stripping, additional insulation, window upgrades, etc. But maybe this doesn’t fit with your budget right now. Or maybe you only want to invest your time and money in tasks that will give you an “instant payback.”

So rather than do nothing, you can take a quick walk through your home yourself, and try to identify the WORST opening to your home where you could be losing heat, and then plug it.

Examples of this could be as simple as:
  • Putting duct tape around a loose pipe connection going through one of your outside walls.

  • Placing a “draft snake” on the bottom of an outside door that has a large gap at the floor, and which has been letting in cold air.

  • Putting inexpensive switch plate gaskets behind outlet plates that are on your outside walls.

  • Adding weather-stripping to the windows where you feel the most cold air coming in.

  • Using “painter’s tape” (that won’t harm painted surfaces) to seal around leaky windows.

  • Clearing out the lint from a stuck dryer vent flap (as mentioned in tip #2 above).


And again, you don’t have to do all of these, but just pick the very worst one you find in your home, and take care of it.
 

# 4: Install a programmable thermostat

 

Cost

: $ 30

Expected savings

: $70 annually

Time required

: about 30 minutes

Level of difficulty

: moderate

A programmable thermostat can automatically have your home temperature drop when you leave the house, be back up again for when you get home, and then drop down when you are in bed asleep and be back up again for when you wake up (see types, costs, and reviews of programmable thermostats). So without having to lift a finger, you will be saving energy by having your house temperature drop down when you don’t need it. And if you have central air conditioning, then your programmable thermostat will also save you energy in summertime too.

A couple of tips on buying a programmable thermostat: be sure to buy a type that is made for the type of heating and cooling system that you have in your home; and get one that is easy to program. You can purchase a programmable thermostat at most hardware stores, or they can be ordered online through Amazon.com: programmable thermostats

Installing a programmable thermostat is a fairly straight-forward do-it-yourself task. Here are a couple of instructional videos: Lowes How-To and Home Depot How-To
 

# 5: Set your water heater to 120 degrees at the faucet

 

Cost

: zero out of pocket costs

Expected Savings:

$6-$10 annually

Time required

: 30 minutes

Level of difficulty

: moderate

Most hot water heaters come from the factory with their thermostats set at 140 degrees F. But for most households, having 120 degrees at the faucet is enough. So if you can drop your water heater’s thermostat to still achieve 120 degrees at the tap you will save on your water heating bill all year around. If you can lower you temperature by 10 degrees, this can save you about 3-5% on your water heating costs (about $15-25 per year). Reducing your water temperature to 120ºF also slows mineral build-up and corrosion in your water heater and pipes, and this will enable your water heater to last longer and operate more efficiently.

There are a couple of things that you will want to consider, however. Dishwashers use water from your hot water tap, and if your dishwasher does not have a booster heater, then you will need your hot water temperature at 130-140 degrees for it to operate properly.
Also, you will want to be sure not to let the temperature of your hot water to drop below 120 degrees at the tap, or else you could be increasing the risk of breeding the bacteria that can cause Legionnaire's Disease.

To lower your water heater’s thermostat, you should consult your owner’s manual (or search online for your manufacturer’s manual, if you can’t find the one that came when you purchased your water heater). Or you can have it done the next time you are having the unit serviced.
 

# 6: Installing a water heater blanket

 

Cost

: $15-$20

Expected Savings

: $10-$20 annually

Time required:

30 - 60 minutes

Level of difficulty

: moderate

Water heating is typically 25% of the average home’s energy bill. So if you can reduce the heat loss from your water heater, this can mean nice savings. If you put your hand on the outside of your water heater tank, and it feels warm to the touch, then you can benefit from adding additional insulation to your water heater tank by adding what is called a “water heater blanket." This reduces heat loss from your tank and your water heater doesn’t have to work as hard, which saves you energy.

You should check with your local utilities, as many utilities offer discounts and rebates for installing water heater blankets. Some even will install a water heater blanket for you at no cost.

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