With winter coming, I thought it was important to review a few simple tips to help you winterize your home and save some money in the process. Most of these tips are really simple, cost little, and can help reduce your energy bill – thus helping both your wallet and the environment!
Insulate your attic. One of the easiest ways to save some money is to ensure that you have at least 12 inches of insulation in your attic. Hot air rises and through the attic is where it’ll go unless you sufficient insulate it. The rule of thumb is that if you can see your ceiling joists (the wooden beams), you don’t have enough because those are often shorter than 12 inches.
Turn off exterior water lines. Chances are you won’t be using any of the water faucets outside of your home, so shut the valve that allows water to those exterior bibs. This prevents the water inside from freezing and cracking your pipes.
Wrap your water boiler. Since it’ll be cold, it’s more important than ever to invest in a water heater blanket and warp your water heater so it loses less heat into the ambient air.
Open the blinds in sunny rooms. Be sure to keep the blinds open on any rooms that get a lot of sun, ever little bit of extra heat can help keep those bills down.
Get a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats can help you save a ton of money by only turning on when you most need it. All HVAC systems work the same way – they are either on or off (there’s no low, medium, or high intensity setting). If you can keep your system off when you’re not home or when you’re asleep, you can save yourself a lot of money. They are easy to install and often break-even (cost vs. savings) within the first year. Here are the things I do to make the hVAC run as little as possible:
- We set the minimum temperature of the home to 55 degrees F.
- The thermostat is otherwise set to 65 degrees when “on.”
- It’s set to be turn on about thirty minutes before we wake up and shuts off at around 9:30.
- It turns on at around 5:30, which is approximately half an hour before we get home.
- The system shuts down at around 11:00, about half an hour before we go to sleep.
- I work from home now but I haven’t worked from home during the winter yet, so I’ll have to see how cold it gets… so far it’s been fine in the summer (which nothing changes except the temperature settings).
Consider lowering the temperature setting on your thermostat. A lower temperature means the system is on less, so try lowering the temperature a degree at a time. You’ll either adjust or reach a point where the temperature is far too low. Either way, you’ll find your sweet spot where your wallet meets your body’s needs. There’s no sense dropping the temperature so low that you get sick, that just doesn’t make financial sense. And put on a sweater. 🙂
Replace your HVAC air filter. I recently replaced my air filter after the fall season and noticed it was remarkably dirty despite our limited use (Maryland is fairly temperate so we don’t use our HVAC system much in the fall). During the winter, when the system will run more often, it’s good to replace it monthly so that you don’t have a dirty air filter ruining the efficiency of the system.
Flip the switch on your ceiling fan. This one is really easy, just flip the rotation direction on your ceiling fans. As hot air rises in the winter, you want the fan to blow upward and slowly. This circulates the hot air back down into the room. When it becomes warmer, you want the fans to blow downward and quickly to cool you off.
Install window insulators. Window insulators are simply plastic sheets you tape up over windows to add an extra layer of protection from the cold. This is especially effective if you have drafty windows as the head from your home can easily escape from those spaces. If you have especially drafty or old windows (especially if they’re single pane), consider replacing them. Window replacements fall under the renewed energy tax credits for 2009 explained next.
Home energy improvement tax credit returns in 2009. In 2007 and 2008, you could get a tax credit for energy saving home improvements  of up to $500 (calculated based on what on the home improvement. We took advantage by replacing our 20-year old drafty windows and sliding doors with Energy Star compliant versions. It had expired on 1/1/08 but the federal tax credits for energy efficiency  have been brought back through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (that’s the bailout bill) and is valid on all improvements made during 2009 (2008 improvements will not receive this credit). The limits for the credit remain the same, $500 over 2006, 2007, and 2009 (which means we’ve already used our allotment); but this makes it available for people who didn’t take advantage of the credit the first time.
(Photo: steffer )