Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cut Costs This Winter: 5 Easy Tips

This time last year the biggest thing on my mind was energy costs. Whether it be electricity, heating fuel, or gasoline for my tiny car the costs pretty much erode my fun money down to pretty much nothing. This issue is only made more critical in the winter, when my relatively poorly insulated, ancient home requires vast quantities of kerosene (because my fuel lines love to FREEZE) and electricity (because my heater loves to work, work, work).

This year, surprise surprise, I find myself in a better financial situation with a worse economy. Energy costs are considerably higher, making that extra change in my pocket more or less meaningless. So, needless to say the biggest concern I have this year is the same as it was last fall.

But there are some various things I've come up with to combat the encroaching frost that don't require much, if any investment in order to get a significant return.

  1. Digital thermostat: A lot of homes, older ones especially, have old style dial thermostats. This is where you set a temperature (say, 70 degrees) and forget about it. Sure, you can adjust the dial at your whim. But it requires constant supervision if you wish to best optimize your heating plan.

    For example, the house doesn't need to be toasty warm while you're at work. In order to accomplish these savings you'd have to turn down the thermostat every day before you walk out the door.

    A couple of years ago we bought a digital thermostat. It cost us $20 and was dead simple to install. We simply unscrewed the old dial and screwed a couple of wires into the new box. Now our heater works in concert with our activities. Week nights after 10:00 PM the temperature drops to a more sustainable temperature. But the heater kicks right back on at 8:00 AM, when it's time to get up. This eliminates human error and insures we never have the heater running unless necessary.

  2. Turning down the heat: It's a painful thing to do, and I swear it's probably changed me in some fundamental Batman villain way. But it works. Your house does not need to be kept at a roasty-toasty 75 degrees in the dead of winter. 68 will likely suffice just fine. Last year our thermostat didn't breach 65.

    This year? I might even dip down to a lovely ambient temperature of 60 during the day and 55 during the night.

  3. Focus the heat: This is especially true if you live in an older house with forced hot air ventilation, like my own. Or if you find yourself with more square footage than really required in the dead of winter.

    You can find magnetic heater vent covers at your local hardware store. Simply place them over your heater vents and close off a couple of doors. We allow our summer living room (an addition) to fall well below freezing during the colder months. It has no pluming to worry about, is relatively poorly insulated and it goes unused anyway.

    If you don't have forced hot air, look into disabling your radiators or closing your central air conditioning vents.

  4. Strategically use space heaters: I'm not saying go out and spend $500 on space heaters and scatter them around your home. But strategically placed, 2 or 3 space heaters can mean the difference between $600 in energy costs for December or $300.

    If you find yourself working from home a lot, place one if your office. If you have a relatively closed off living room, deploy one there. So long as you remember to turn them off when you're not around or conscious and use them as a supplement instead of a replacement you should notice a smaller energy bill overall.

  5. Seal cracks, eliminate drafts: You'd be surprised at how many cracks and drafty windows the average home has. Beneath door jams, inside windowsills, unmoved air conditioners from bygone eras.

    Try purchasing some weather sealant caulk from your local hardware store to seal infrequently used windows and back doors. You can even go so far as purchasing plastic sheeting (clear, so you can let sunlight in) to block off some especially drafty older windows. Close storm doors and windows. Utilize draft dodgers (neat little tubes of insulated filling) to prevent drafts under more frequently used doors.
So long as you use a little bit of forethought, research and common sense the approaching winter shouldn't be as bad as you think it's going to be, even with rising energy costs.


Kyle said...

I remember, years ago in the mid to late 90s, we used to use plastic sheeting to cover these old windows in my room. I had five, and they were really old; they were those turn crank windows, and they were drafty. It got so bad that we had to break down and buy sheets of glass and install holders to keep them from letting out heat.

Ed said...

Kyle: The windows in my home that require the plastic sheeting are exactly of that variety, the turn cranks.


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