By Brian F. Keane
Winter is near, which means higher heating bills are not far behind. In colder climates, home heating can account for 65 percent of a residence’s total energy bill.
But with a little ingenuity and know-how, you can keep your energy costs down and stay warm all season long. Here are some ideas that I’ve learned while running a nonprofit organization focused on promoting clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Reverse the air flow. Warm air that’s trapped on the ceiling is inefficient and isn’t doing you any good up there. But with ceiling fans, you can put that useless air to work keeping you warm. Reverse the blades on the fan so they blow down the warmer air. Combine this with a programmable thermostat that turns the heat on only when you’re home, and you could knock 20 percent off of your heating expenses.
Lower the temperature. Reducing the thermostat may seem like a no-brainer, but look at the savings: If you drop the temperature from 71 degrees to 70 degrees, you will save 3 percent on your power or gas bill. On a $900 annual bill, that’s $27. Drop it to 68 degrees, and you’re up to $81. Turn the thermostat down an extra 10 degrees when you climb into bed and you’ll pocket another $90, more than enough for a thick blanket to keep you toasty.
In general, don’t pre-heat the oven. For many of us, the holidays mean cooking big meals. Pre-heating is only necessary for foods that rise, like biscuits, bread and cakes. For almost any other food, it doesn’t matter how hot the oven is when you stick it in. In addition, instead of using your oven’s self-cleaning setting, consider scrubbing it yourself. That’s a little bit of work but remember, the self-cleaning mode is running your oven on maximum for a full three hours. Depending on how often you self-clean, you could save $40 to $100 a year. Also, if you have a microwave, toaster oven, slow cooker or pressure cooker, those appliances can do an oven’s smaller jobs at a fraction of the cost.
Don’t open the oven door. Yes, you want the turkey to be perfect, but opening the oven door to check on it drops the internal temperature by about 25 degrees. Use the oven light instead. When the door is closed, make sure it’s sealed tight to keep the maximum heat inside. Use a degreaser to clean the seal around the door. Your savings will vary widely depending on how much cooking you do, but they are there for the taking.
Check your insulation. Your home might be insulated, but the insulation must have a high enough R-value—the rating that measures how well the exterior of a house resists heat transfer—to work efficiently. Use the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zip Code Insulation Calculator, which suggests the most economic insulation level for your house. Depending on the complexity of your needs, you can install it yourself. But even if insulation and air sealing costs thousands of dollars, this step could cut your heating bills in half.
Brian F. Keane is President of SmartPower (www.smartpower.org), based in Washington, DC, and author of Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Our Community Profit From Clean Energy.