Do you live in a cold-weather state like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Massachusetts or Wisconsin? If this is the case, we don’t have to tell you what the winner can do to your utility bill. If you live in a place such as Florida, California or Louisiana you may not have to worry about wintertime utility bills but then there’s the cost of your air-conditioning, which can be just about as bad.
You can’t predict the weather
The Farmer’s Almanac has said that we got a bit of a reprieve thanks to El Niño which gave us a relatively mild winter. However, the Almanac also says that exceptionally cold, if not downright glacial weather will prevail this winter over parts of the Northern Plains, Midwest, the Middle Atlantic, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, New England, and the Northeast. While we can’t say for sure that the Farmers Almanac’s forecast will be right on it does pay to expect the worst, which means high utility bills. Fortunately, there are ways you could cut that bill and here are eight of them.
1. Cover your windows
According to Black Hills Energy heat will escape through a single pane of glass about 14 times faster than through a wall that’s insulated. If you can’t afford new windows or storm windows then two good alternatives would be to put plastic sheeting over your windows or a thick curtain of some thermal material. You could also double glaze, which would mean installing another door or window to cut heat transfer between the doors or windows to cut your utility bill.
2. Add insulation to your attic, walls and floors
The first task that most Alaskans consider is to ensure that their weather-stripping and insulation is in the best possible condition to prevent heat loss during those harsh Alaskan winters. You should take a lesson from these Alaskans and add insulation to your walls, attic and floors. You don’t need to be a physicist to understand that if it’s colder outside and there’s no barrier to block heat from leaving, then leave it will. If possible, you should insulate just about every place you can including around ceiling fans, improperly insulated heating ducts and chimneys. Not insulating these can increase the cost of heating (or air conditioning) your house by as much as 30%. You could save another 30% of your heating bill by doing a better job of insulating your top floor or attic. You could reduce another 20% of your utility bill by adding insulation to your exterior walls.
3. Get assistance with your utility bill
If you simply can’t afford to increase your house’s energy efficiency, there is help available with your utility bill. Our Department of Energy has what it calls a Weatherization Assistance Program. According to the DOE it provides money to states, tribal governments and territories to help increase the energy efficiency of families with low incomes. This also includes senior citizens and those with disabilities. Many utility companies offer these programs so be sure to call your local utility provider to check this out and your state, too, because it may offer assistance programs.
4. Get a programmable furnace or thermostat
Don’t you think you would cut your utility bill if your house stayed cool during the day but was nice and toasty warm when you got home? A programmable furnace would help you enjoy just this. If you were to install one of these before winter it could save you as much as 20% on your utility bill, which means you would recover your investment in about a year. If a programmable furnace seems out of your reach financially you could achieve about the same thing with a programmable thermostat. For that matter, there are now thermostats you don’t have to set yourself as they will learn your living patterns.
5. Buy only energy-efficient appliances
Today’s furnaces can be as much as 97% efficient, meaning that they burn gas or oil more effectively. If your furnace is more than 10 or 15 years old, it’s probably not as efficient so you might think about replacing it even it means you would need to get a personal debt consolidation loan. You should also look for the Energy Star labels when shopping for appliances as they will show their actual energy usage. Be sure your exhaust and lint traps are clean to prevent a fire and to keep your dryer from having to work so hard. Consumers Energy of Michigan points out that you should keep the dryer only three-quarters full so that your clothes will have plenty of space to dry.
6. Weather-strip your doors
If you feel a draft around your doors or if you can see daylight around your doorframes, here’s something you could do which is very inexpensive and that’s add some weather-stripping. One energy expert has pointed out that a 1/2-inch gap around one of your doors is about the same as a softball -sized hole in your door in terms of the cold air that it lets in. And according to the website Homewyse, you should be able to weather-strip six doors for as little as $37.04, plus an hour or so of your labor.
If you fail to reduce your water heater to 120 degrees or don’t turn it off when it’s not in use this is called an energy vampire. Many electronics and appliances still use electricity even when turned off making them energy vampires. You could lower your utility bill simply by putting them on a power strip that you could off when they’re not in use. Be sure to turn off the lights when you leave a room and use timers on holiday lights. And switch out your old lightbulbs for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen incandescents or light emitting diodes (LEDs).
8. Get a budget plan
If you don’t want to go into debt and you’re really concerned about your utility bill this winter (or summer) there is a free option available from almost all energy companies called the budget plan. The way this works is that the utility adds up your bills from the past 12 months and then averages them into one amount that it bills you each month. If you choose a budget plan, you’ll be paying less over the winter months but more in the summer.