Winter is unpredictable – some days it almost feels like spring and others you wonder if the tip of your nose just froze off. And that can make energy and heating bills unpredictable, too. If you’re worried about the upswing in expense, or if you’re just looking to control your heating budget as much as possible, these tips are for you.
They’re mostly simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement. And they can really make a dent in your heating bills. See if any of these energy- and money-saving tips make a difference in your heating costs as we wait out the rest of the winter here in New Jersey.
Lower The Temperature
Sounds like the last thing you want to do during the coldest months, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. After all, you can see savings with just a one degree change! As a general guideline, the Department of Energy estimates you can expect to save about 1% of your heating costs per 1 degree of change. That may not sound like much but it’s a simple way to save over time, and you can probably live with a one, two, or three degree change without noticing.
But it gets better, because now imagine lowering the thermostat five or six degrees at night when you’re all bundled up under the covers anyway. Or lower it 10 degrees during the day when everyone is at work or school. Saving 10% on your heating costs sounds a little more attractive, doesn’t it? And you can do all that without spending a single moment in discomfort.
Switch To A WiFi Thermostat
If you’re going to be moving the temperature up and down, then a WiFi thermostat is going to be your new best friend. Yes, a programmable one can help. You can set it to rise and fall during times of the day when you expect to be home, sleeping or away. But a WiFi thermostat takes it one step further and gives you granular control over the temperature any time of the day, from any location, as long as you have an internet connection.
With a WiFi, or “smart” thermostat, you can make fine-tuned adjustments even as your schedule changes. Sleeping in? Lower the temperature while you’re in bed, then raise it just before you put your feet on the floor. Working late? Adjust the temperature on the fly so the “schedule” doesn’t kick in and heat an empty house.
Depending on the model you choose, you can also take advantage of geofencing, which means your thermostat will notice when you’re within a certain range of your home and automatically adjust the temperature for a warm arrival.
Be Careful With Space Heaters
It seems like a sound approach: grab a space heater and stay warm without heating the rest of the house. But there are some drawbacks to this method, unless you’re very, very careful.
First, it can actually be fairly expensive to run a space heater, especially if it’s on full blast all day to combat the arctic chill in your home. Secondly, people tend to use them to warm up without turning the main thermostat down. That means your furnace *and* spacer heater are both adding to your bill.
Finally, the cost of a good, solid space heater can get up there, and if you’re going to spend money, you may as well upgrade your thermostat! It will serve you better in the long run, and all year, too.
Space heaters also come with a laundry list of warnings – don’t use them on carpets, near furniture or curtains, with pets or kids, and the list goes on. The last thing you want is a house fire in return for *maybe* saving a few dollars on heating.
Keep The Vents Open
If you’re in the habit of closing vents in one room to redirect warm air to another, stop! Not only will that fail to have the desired effect, but it could badly backfire by putting stress on your system that can lead to failure and costly repairs.
When you close vents, it restricts airflow and can result not only in damage to your system, but it can also cause pressure leaks in ducts that will further exacerbate your heating woes.
For your HVAC system to work at maximum efficiency (and minimum cost) vents should be left open. While you’re at it, make sure nothing is obstructing them – the TV, sofa, a desk or easy chair, even window curtains. They’re not the prettiest things in a room, but if you try to cover them up you’ll only make your system work harder, which can lead to increased costs. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid!
Use A Ceiling Fan
You’re chilled from the end of your nose to the tips of your toes, so why on earth would you put on a fan? Well, you’ve heard that hot air rises, and all that nice, warm air does you no good if it sits on the ceiling!
Most ceiling fans have a dual-direction switch – it can be set to blow cooling air down during summer, but blow in reverse to push warm air from the ceiling down the walls during winter.
It’s relatively inexpensive to run a ceiling fan, especially in comparison to running a furnace. But do be mindful of how you use it. A ceiling fan won’t warm a room – it will merely circulate the air and create better temperature distribution. If nobody is in the room to enjoy it, then you’re only adding costs to costs without benefit. So only use a fan when someone is in the room, and turn it off when you leave.
Check For Leaks
When you think of leaks you most likely think of water. But air can leak, too. If it’s bad enough, you could be paying an additional 20% or more on heating costs as warm air escapes into walls, the attic or right out the window – literally!
You’ll probably notice common problem spots immediately. The space around doors and windows, power outlets, or anywhere that a wire comes into your house can be a potential source of leaks. Sealing these up can do wonders for your comfort and energy bills.
Ducts can leak, too, and when that happens it’s probably time to call a professional. Ducts can leak for a variety of reasons. They may be poorly insulated, improperly installed, old, or suffering damage from all those years of working too hard against closed vents.
It’s not always straightforward to find a leak, so ask your HVAC contractor for help. If you’re noticing your home getting more and more uncomfortable as your furnace struggles harder and harder to keep up, it’s possible that much of that warm air is simply escaping before it can heat your home.
If the leaks are bad enough, in a very old home for example, it’s also possible that critters attracted to a warm bed can get in, and that’s a headache you don’t need!
Change Your HVAC Filters
Dirty filters are responsible for a whole slew of HVAC woes. They can reduce the air quality in your home, making allergies and illnesses worse. They can leave your home dustier than usual. And they can put excess strain on your HVAC system, making it work harder to heat during winter and cool during summer.
All that added stress will eventually come back to haunt you in the form of repair bills, or even the need for a new unit long before you might have expected.
Filters are so easy and relatively inexpensive to replace that there’s no reason to let this one slide. As a rule of thumb, filters should be replaced at least every three months, more often if you have pets. If you’ve got the washable kind, then take the time to clean them on schedule. Otherwise, take yourself to the nearest home improvement store and pick a few up to keep in the utility closet throughout winter.
You don’t even need the most expensive ones on the shelf. In fact, you should be sure to get filters that meet your furnace manufacturer’s specification, since furnace brands and styles have different requirements. If you need help choosing a filter, ask your HVAC contractor. It’ll save you money now on heating costs, and in the long run on repair and replacement costs.
Know When To Fold ‘Em
This last one may not be as inexpensive or simple, but if your furnace simply isn’t doing its job, it may be time to retire it. A furnace typically has a lifespan of 15-20 years, so if you’re pushing the boundaries, then consider getting an estimate for a replacement *before* you need it.
If something has gone wrong and you’re wondering whether to repair a problem or call it quits, then consider this rule of thumb: if a repair is going to cost more than a third of the cost of replacing the unit, then it’s time to say goodbye – especially if your unit is older, and doubly especially if it’s out of warranty.
If the odds are stacked against you – an older unit, no warranty, the prospect of a costly repair, or just another chilly and uncomfortable winter – then start looking into your options. It may not be as daunting to replace a furnace as you think. With local utility company and manufacturer rebates, you could save a pretty penny. You may even qualify for a 0% loan that makes it easier to pay off your investment over several years.
Whatever you do, don’t wait for an ailing and aging furnace to conk out on a cold day. Plan, prepare and be ready to make a change.
If you’re wondering whether a repair or replacement is right for you, or you want to know more about rebates, financing and other replacement options, contact us for a free estimate. We’ll visit your home, see what you need, and find the best possible option for you to consider. Our HVAC pros are here to help.