50 Ways to Save Energy (and Money) This Winter
If you've been a little lax about nudging the thermostat or leaving lights on, now is the time to turn over a new leaf. Here are 50 energy-saving tips to help lower your utility bills.
Related: 19 Steps to Prep Your House and Yard for Fall and Winter
Each degree you lower the thermostat for a period of at least eight hours can cut the heating bill by 1 percent, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy. Just throw on warmer pajamas or snuggle under an extra blanket at night.
A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically turn down the heat while everyone's at school or work all day and in bed at night. This avoids the more extreme (and costly) swings that often come with manual adjustments.
The federal government's Energy Star program warns that about 20 percent of heated air can escape through the ductwork. Bring in a professional make sure the distribution channels are leak-free and make any necessary repairs.
This is one of the simplest energy-saving tips. A clogged air duct won't let heat in or out.
Furnace filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly during the cold season. A dirty filter blocks the flow of heat, which in turn can boost utility bills.
Although they cost more, reusable filters last longer and give more bang for the buck. Wash off the filter at the beginning of each heating season, put it back in place, and you're good to go.
Regular tune-ups to keep the furnace clean and properly adjusted help it run efficiently and prolong its lifespan. Some utility companies and furnace manufacturers offer annual inspections at no charge.
Heat could be escaping from the uppermost floor of the house. At least six inches of insulating material between the heated and unheated areas of the home will keep you warmer and your bills lower. Although the price of insulating an attic can be high, the investment should pay off in a few seasons.
Flipping a switch on a ceiling fan turns the usual counterclockwise rotation, which produces a cool breeze, to a clockwise rotation that pushes warm air back into circulation.
Patch up problem spots (windows, doors, and anything that lets in air from the inside, like dryer vents) with caulk and weather stripping to save up to 30 percent on heating bills, according to the Energy Department. Cover single-pane windows with plastic.
Remove window air conditioners or tightly cover the front of the units. Leaving them in place or without protection is an open invitation to a cold air invasion.
Make sure the flue is closed. If you have a glass screen, close that, as well. Open fireplaces allow heat to escape.
Objects placed in front or on top of a vent get in the way of hot air. Take this opportunity to rearrange the furniture.
Open the shades even on chilly days to let natural sunlight warm the rooms in your home.
The water heater can account for up to 25 percent of your utility bill. Set the temperature to 120 degrees, which is still plenty warm, to save money all year.
Pipes protected from the cold and wind are much less likely to freeze. Frozen pipes often crack, and that's a very costly repair.
The billing department at the utility company can make mistakes. Question any strange numbers and make sure the meter matches up with the usage posted on the bill.
The washers uses the same amount of energy regardless how much you stuff in. It's more energy-efficient to do big loads than small loads.
The energy-saving advice for drying is opposite of that for washing. The less clothing inside the appliance, the less juice it uses.
You don't need as much laundry soap as you think for the typical load. If an item is really filthy, soak it in the sink first. Using less detergent puts less strain on your washer and your wallet.
If clothes are still soaked, run another spin cycle to cut the time needed in the dryer.
A clean, dry towel added to a wet load absorbs moisture and could decrease drying time by 25 percent.
This is the dryer setting that uses the least amount of energy. It's intended for thinner or more delicate fabrics but might be adequate for small loads.
Start stovetop cooking at high heat, then lower the flame or electric setting to finish the job.
Use only enough water to reach the top of vegetables or other foods being cooked.
Lots of black stuff on the outside surface of pots and pans blocks heat from reaching the food inside, so cooking time is longer. Scour and scrub after each use.
Put small pans on small burners and bigger pans on big burners to save energy.
Cooking or heating up food with a toaster oven or microwave saves more energy than warming on the stove or in the oven.
Keep the fresh food section of the refrigerator set between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer section at 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Always cover items stored in the refrigerator. Failing to do so releases moisture and causes the compressor to work overtime.
The refrigerator and freezer operate most efficiently when not crammed with food. Also be sure there's enough clearance behind the appliance to let air circulate.
It's hard to resist the urge to rinse off the last bits of spaghetti before loading the dishwasher, but trust the machine. The no-rinse strategy can save up to 55,000 gallons of water over the course of a dishwasher's lifetime.
Using hot water on dishes even for a short time causes the water heater to work harder and use more energy.
Running appliances at off-peak times can shave dollars off monthly energy bills, depending on the local utility. Avoid the after-dinner rush to the dishwasher and let it run late at night or midday.
Cram as many dishes as possible onto the racks. The energy used is the same regardless of the size of the load.
Remember to turn off electricity-eating devices at night, especially electronics such as computer monitors that leech energy in sleep mode.
Many electronics and appliances continue to draw electricity even when powered off. Unplug these energy "vampires" when not in use.
It's easy to forget to turn off electronics when leaving the house, never mind unplug them. Plug items like TVs into a power strip so you can shut off several devices at once.
Kiss incandescent bulbs goodbye and welcome their energy-efficient replacements: compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs. CFL bulbs use about a third of the energy consumed by a halogen incandescent. LEDs use about a quarter -- and last up to 25 times longer.
Long, hot showers use more water and more energy. Save on both by jumping in and out quickly.
Cut down on shower time and hot water usage by washing hair less frequently -- unless it gets greasy quickly, that is.
Believe it or not, you can shave your legs without the shower running. Just think of all the water and energy you'll be saving.
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