21 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Heating Your Home This Winter
It could be a long winter with rising prices, so now is a good time to figure out what you can do to afford to stay toasty. Between food prices, gas prices and now power bills, we could use a break.
The average cost of heating a home this winter is expected to rise $177 to $1,202, a 17% increase compared with last winter, according to a report from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.
A little preventive maintenance and some other easy fixes can help keep costs down. We have 21 ways to help you hold onto more of your cold, hard money while staying warm.
21 Ways to Reduce Your Electric Bill
From closing off unused rooms to simple maintenance checks and fixes, these tips to avoid sticker shock from your electric bill are worth your efforts.
1. Get a Free Home Energy Assessment
Many power providers offer free home energy assessments or home energy optimization kits. Xcel Energy, which serves much of the northern midwest and mountain regions of the U.S., provides a free virtual visit with a Home Energy Squad member, followed by a free kit to optimize your residential electrical usage.
2. Seal Cracks and Leaks
Don’t let any precious warm air escape due to drafty doors and leaky windows. Seal these money-draining spaces with inexpensive draft tape, often ranging from $9 to $15 on sites like Amazon.
3. Upgrade to Efficient Equipment with a Rebate
Although upgrading HVAC systems and thermostats can be pricey, many electrical companies offer rebate programs. ConEd, which serves New York City, offers rebates on smart thermostats. Check with your energy provider to see if rebates are offered in your area. This could mean more than $100 back in your pocket.
4. If You Have a Smart Thermostat, Use It
For those who already have a Nest or other programmable thermostat in your home, take the time to program it. Smart thermostats offer zonal and timed heating and cooling, which on average will save most homeowners 10-12% on heating bills and up to 15% on their cooling bills.
5. Take a Timeout on Energy Consumption
To cheaply lower your electric bill, consider adding an outlet timer to appliances. These helpful gadgets cost $10 to $20 and will make your home more energy efficient and limit the amount of “phantom power” (the power your devices leech from outlets even when not turned on) contributing to monthly energy bills.
6. Invest in One-Time Duct Cleaning
A major cause of ineffective or inefficient home heating may be from clogged ductwork. Over the years, debris like dust, pet hair and dander can accumulate in vents and make it difficult for air to flow smoothly throughout your space. Here’s how to tell if your ducts need cleaning. Cleaner ducts = less need to turn up the heat. Fortunately, HVAC system maintenance is pretty affordable, and a one-time vent cleaning will only take $200-$300 out of your home maintenance budget.
7. Change Your Air Filter
Air filters do just that — filter out tiny particles and debris generally undetectable to the human eye. This provides us with clean air circulating in our homes. However, these filters need to be changed about every six months in order to work properly. Clogged filters inhibit effective air flow and can lead to higher energy costs due to forcing your air systems to work harder to pump out warm air.
8. Run Appliances at Night
Some electric companies charge higher rates during the day (aka peak hours) and lower rates at night (aka off-peak hours). It can help save a few bucks here and there to run larger appliances like dishwashers, clothing dryers, and washing means while you’re getting some shut-eye.
9. Make the Move to LED
LED bulbs can save consumers as much as $225 in energy costs per year, according to the EPA’s Energy Star Program. If you want a lower electric bill, it’s time to make the switch from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs.
10. Insulate Hidden Areas
Any item in your house that has pipes behind it (toilets, sinks, etc.) likely is simply sitting in an open hole in the wall with no insulation. This means that in the winter, warm air could be leaking out or cold air could be seeping in. Consulting with a professional to learn more about how adding insulation behind toilets and sinks can help make your home more energy efficient by eliminating these air leaks across your house.
11. Close the Door
If you live in a multiroom home, closing the doors to unused rooms will consolidate your heating usage to fewer rooms, and it will keep that room much warmer. Pick a room or two to hang out in for the majority of the day, and shut the doors to the others. A painless way to lower your electric bill.
12. Check the Seals
Weather stripping for doors and windows is key to retaining heat in the winter (and keeping it out in the summer). If your windows and doors are letting too much heat out, replace the weather stripping.
You can buy weather stripping for around $15, and it could save you big-time on heating bills.
13. Reduce Phantom Power
Even if something like a lamp or TV are not turned on, the fact that they remain plugged in means those items could be leeching “phantom power” from your home, and jacking up your electric bill. Phantom power refers to the electricity consumed by objects when they are off or in standby mode. This allows them to quickly turn on, but means your electric bill pays the price. Consider unplugging lamps, appliances, and more when not in use to save on your next energy payment.
14. Add an Energy Efficient Power Strip
While you’re unplugging unused objects, think about adding in an energy efficient power strip to cut down on your bill. Some estimate that installing energy efficient power strips (which are only $20 to $30 each) can decrease home power use from 20 to 48%, which translates to more than just a few dollars back in your pocket.
15. Lower the Hot Water Heater Temperature
The default temperature for water heaters is 140 degrees, which wastes between $36 and $61 a year, according to the Department of Energy.
According to the DOE, lowering the temp to 120 degrees is perfectly fine for the majority of the population. If you or a member of your household has a chronic respiratory disease or a suppressed immune system, though, it may be best to keep your water heater set to the default temp.
16. Decrease Door Drafts With a Draft Stopper
Using the aptly named draft stopper on your doors can further prevent air leaks throughout your home. For only $8, you can keep warm air circulating in your space without losing it to wasteful door leaks. Another painless way to save money.
17. Use Exhaust Fans
Exhaust fans are those that are generally already built into your home, like the kind above a stove or shower. These fans do an exceptionally good job at circulating air. Running these fans even when not cooking or in the shower can improve air circulation and decrease the need to crank up the heat and your power usage.
18. Go Through a Checklist
Owning or renting a home comes with all sorts of maintenance. It can be hard to keep track of what to do at what time of year in order to keep your space clean and efficient. Referring to a home checklist like this one can ensure you are ticking off the correct boxes to prepare your home for every season, potentially saving you some dough on electric bills.
19. Rearrange Your Furniture
Go through the house and check that you don’t have beds, dressers, bookcases or other furniture block heating vents (especially taller items like bookshelves). If the vents are blocked and air isn’t evenly distributed, this may cause you to turn up the heat unnecessarily.
20. Eat at Home
When you cook in your oven and on the stovetop, heat emanates into your kitchen and surrounding rooms. Crack the oven open after turning it off to let the remaining heat filter out into your home.
21. Use a Space Heater
OK, so you’ve turned the heat down, closed off unused rooms and bundled up in blankets, but you’re still feeling chilly. A small space heater might do the trick — and you can get one for less than $30 on Amazon or at a home goods store.
Running a little bit of heat in one small area is more affordable than heating your entire living space.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Electric Bills
We answer some of the most asked questions about electric bills and what makes them so high.
To reduce your electric bill, take stock of how many hours of electricity you use a day (some things like water heaters and refrigerators will always be running, and that’s OK) for things like the dishwasher, washer and dryer, floor lamps, and accessories such as stereo equipment. Then, begin to see where you can limit the amount of time those home furnishings are in use. This will slowly but surely start to reduce your home electric bill.
Most electric bills are tabulated by multiplying the rate you pay per kilowatt of energy by the total hours of device and electricity usage that month. This gives you your total electric usage in kWh — kilowatts per hour. From this formula, we can see that electric bills are based on how many hours of electricity you use each month.
There can be many reasons as to why your electric bill is so high, including inefficient appliances, infrastructure in need of repair and poor insulation. Another reason could be that you leave all your appliances plugged in all the time. This is called “phantom energy costs” or “vampire energy costs,” meaning that even when a device is not directly in use, if it is plugged in it is still using a bit of energy. There may be things that can be unplugged like computers or entertainment systems.
If appliances such as dishwashers are decades old, it’s likely that those models are no longer the most energy or water-efficient on the market. Although no one wants to purchase a brand-new major appliance, this can save you money in the long run.
Poor insulation can be a huge drain on energy efficiency. If you have major cracks in your window frames, walls, baseboards, and more, you are basically watching your hard-earned dollars fall through those gaps. Likewise, if doors are left open (especially the garage door or patio door) haphazardly you are bleeding cold or warm air (depending on the season) through those areas, causing your home heating or cooling to work harder, thus costing you more money on your electric bill.
The most costly items on an electric bill are the culprits you probably already guessed: air conditioning, heating, and large home appliances come in at the top of the list. This is why it makes it all the more important that your home is energy efficient with updated models of each home appliance.
Some sneakier money-eaters on your electric bill are incandescent bulbs, hair dryers, and space heaters. A hair dryer consumes about 1,200 watts per hour of usage and costs 12 cents an hour to operate while a fridge generally only consumes 1,000 watts and costs 10 cents an hour to run. While you may not be using a hair dryer for an hour, you can see how daily use of such an accessory could add up.
This is where a free home inspection by your local utility company may come in handy, if such a service is offered. Energy experts can let you know if your appliances are up-to-date from an energy standpoint as well as what other surprising items in your home may be contributing to an overly high electric bill.
Colorado-based writer Kristin Jenny focuses on lifestyle and wellness. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Deputy editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors updated this post.