Energy-Saving Tips: 5 Ways to Lower Your Heating Bill

These easy, inexpensive energy saving tips will save you big bucks on your heating bill this winter.

  • Heating and cooling account for as much as half of a home's energy use, according to Energy Star.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Woodstoves are a good option if you have an open floor plan or a small, efficient home.
    Photo Courtesy Blaze King
  • Adding nontoxic insulation to your attic is an easy DIY project and could save a bundle.
    Photo Courtesy Bonded Logic Inc.
  • Caulking air leaks and gaps can eliminate your biggest source of heat loss.
  • In addition to saving energy, a clean heating system helps mitigate dust and allergies.
  • You can set a programmable thermostat to match your schedule every day of the week.
    Photo Courtesy ICM Controls

Over the past 15 years, I’ve performed energy audits in thousands of homes. I tell people energy efficiency shouldn’t be a hardship—in fact, it can be rewarding. Increasing your home’s energy efficiency lowers energy bills and makes your home more comfortable.

It doesn’t take much to keep your heating costs minimal, although once you get started, you may want to dig deeper. Even if you must finance them, professionally installed, major energy improvements almost guarantee you positive cash flow. For now, here’s are simple energy saving tips you can do yourself.

1. Get Smart With Your Thermostat

Your thermostat is a valve between your fuel supplier and your wallet. For every degree you turn it down, you use up to 2 percent less heating energy. A 10-degree setback overnight or while you’re at work cuts your heating bill by up to 10 percent.

2 Ways to Save

• A programmable thermostat saves energy without you even thinking about it. Simply adjust the settings to turn down the temperature automatically while you’re away. When programming, keep in mind that it may take as little as 15 minutes to heat your home to a comfortable level. Experiment to see how your home responds.

• “Zoned” heating systems give you temperature control in different heat “zones” throughout the house. If you install a new heating system, give yourself enough zone control to set cooler temperatures in seldom-used areas or those kept warm by the sun.

2. Insulate and Seal

An energy auditor or insulation contractor can tell you how much insulation you have in your walls, ceiling, floors and basement. As an energy auditor, I strongly advise that insulation meet or exceed the U.S. Department of Energy's recommendations. With rising energy costs, spending what seems like a large amount of money to upgrade insulation can offer significant savings over your home’s life. Be sure you seal up air leaks before covering them with insulation.

If your budget is limited, attics are an easy place to add insulation at minimal cost, and it’s easy to do yourself. Insulating most attics to recommended levels costs $200 to $500.

3. Winterproof Your Windows

If you need to replace windows, look for the most efficient units to fit your budget. Though more-efficient windows cost more, they yield greater energy and financial savings over time. Analyze the windows you have. If it’s not time to replace them, a few inexpensive repairs can improve their performance.

• Assess their condition. First, count how many glass panes (also called glazing) separate your home’s interior from the outdoors. If you have single-pane windows (a single layer of glass) or rotten sashes and frames, it’s time to think about new windows.

• Address drafts by installing sash locks and weatherstripping around the window’s perimeter. For older, double-hung windows, consider side-mounted sash locks that pull the window tight at the sides of the frame, not just where the sash rails meet.

• Remove the inside trim to see how the window unit was installed into the framing cavity. Any air space between the house shell and the window frame can cause significant air leaks and should be sealed. If the gap is not too wide, seal it with caulk, backer rod or nonexpanding foam. For windows with ropes and pulleys, buy pulley seals and caulk around trim to stop air infiltration.

• Reduce heat loss by installing storm windows, or covering windows with plastic window film or insulating window inserts. Or make simple window quilts by sandwiching a piece of Bubble Wrap between two pieces of cloth material; you can roll them up and down as needed.

4. Attend to Your Heating System

A typical heating system lasts about 20 years, although some have been around much longer. If yours is more than 15 years old, it’s a good candidate for replacement—and you could increase your efficiency by as much as 35 percent. Look for the Energy Star label.

Not in the market for a completely new system? A little low-cost maintenance and some relatively inexpensive upgrades to your furnace, boiler or combination system could yield significant energy savings.

DIY maintenance

You can do a lot yourself to keep your system running smoothly.

• If you have a steam boiler and there’s noise coming from a radiator or it isn’t producing heat, you probably need to bleed trapped air from the line.

• Keep air registers, grills and radiators clean and clear. Furniture, drapes, dirt or other obstructions block heat.

• Check for soot, rust and corosion in, on and around the furnace and on the floor surrounding it. These indicate the system requires immediate service.

• If You have a furnace, clean or replace the air filter whenever you can see dust buildup, which may be once a month or more during the heating season. If the blower fan is also used for air conditioning, check the filter throughout the year.

• Inspect the furnace blower motor and fan blades when you change the air filter. Clean if needed. Only do this yourself if you’re completely sure you have shut off the electricity to the furnace. The fan is usually behind the air filter, but check your owner’s manual.

Professional maintenance

Sometimes it’s best to call in a professional. Have your system’s efficiency tested by a qualified heating contractor. Then you can talk about the need for upgrades or replacement options.

• A modest investment in duct repairs (about $300) can cut your annual heating and cooling bill by up to 17 percent (or more). A technician can test for duct leaks, which waste energy and compromise indoor air quality, then seal all seams with foil tape or mastic, or spray in a sealant. After sealing, wrap ducts with at least R-5 insulation. (R-values measure resistance to the flow of heat.)

• A professional heating contractor can improve your boiler’s efficiency by installing a time-delay relay that lets water circulate before the boiler comes on. In warmer weather, the hot water already in the boiler may be enough to heat the house.

• A pro can install adjustable radiator vents or valves on hot water or steam boilers so you can shut off heat in unused rooms.

• A pro can install a modulating aquastat on your boiler to adjust water temperature automatically based on the outside temperature.

4/10/2014 10:19:48 AM

We're always looking for tips and ways to reduce our energy bill and when I came across this article I thought it was fantastic. Some quite simple minded methods really such as ensuring windows are as insulated as they could be and being manageable with room temperatures when you're not in them. I recently changed my broken boiler for and have not looked back since. With minimal costs in running and maintenance, the energy efficiency I get from that now is incredible.

12/6/2013 10:06:33 PM

Too many "Hire an energy auditor". The utility company will probably do it for free.

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