Depending on where you live, winter weather takes on different forms. From severe cold snaps to polar vortexes and blizzards, there's a lot to consider. This MasterKit will help you prepare for winter in all its forms, so you can keep your home, car and family protected.
No matter how you heat your home, the cost to do it can skyrocket in winter. A good budget can help manage your money, but these 10 tips will help you save it.
Don't let winter heating bills eat up your budget. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to boost the efficiency of your system, reduce wasted energy, and lower overall heating costs. Here are 10 of our favorites.
1. Put on a sweater
The simplest and cheapest way to lower your heating costs is to turn down the heat. Instead of cranking up the thermostat to 72°F, keep it at a steady 68°F or below and dress for the weather. The "sweater savings" can be substantial. By lowering the thermostat one single degree between 60°F and 70°F, you can save 5 percent on your heating bill.1
Pro Tip: You can make your own hand warmers out of a pair of ankle socks. Fill one sock with rice, then stuff it, open side down, into the other sock to keep the rice inside. Microwave your homemade hand warmer for about 30 seconds, and it will stay warm for about 15 minutes.
2. Teach your thermostat
Programmable thermostats start at $25 to $30 and can lower your heating bill by keeping your home cooler when you don't really need as much heat. You can program the thermostat to automatically drop the temperature down to the low 60s when you're asleep and into the mid-50s when you're at work or away on vacation. Any lower than that and the pipes could freeze. If it's going to be truly frigid while you're gone, you'll want to keep it a little warmer. By having the programmable thermostat lower the temperature 7-10°F while you're out, you can save up to 10 percent on the heating bill.2
3. Seal leaky windows and doors
It's estimated that seven to 12 percent of heat loss in a home can be blamed on leaky windows and doors.3 The good news is that there's an entire aisle of products at the hardware store dedicated to sealing up your house against drafts. Weather stripping is a spool of sticky foam or rubber insulation that can be applied along the window or door frame to create a tight seal. Caulking around the edge of the window or door frame will seal that area as well. If you can see daylight under exterior doors, install a door sweep to block those wintry gusts.
Pro Tip: You can build a draft blocker for your doors by cutting the legs off an old (but not holey) pair of tights or thick stockings. Fill that with rice, kitty litter or cotton batting, and sew or tie it closed.
4. Wrap your windows
Even if your windows and sliding doors are properly weather stripped, you will still lose a lot of heat if they're single-paned glass. Upgrading to double panes can be a great investment, but in the meantime, the cheapest way to trap in that heat is to use plastic. Hardware stores sell handy kits for all window and door sizes. The plastic adheres to the window frame with two-sided tape and can be stretched tight with a hair dryer.
Pro tip: In a pinch, you can use plastic wrap from the kitchen, which will cling to the window frame on its own. You can also use bubble wrap left over from packing or moving, although the bubbles will obstruct the view.
5. Use those curtains
Curtains can be much more than window dressing. In the days before weather stripping and storm windows, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains provided excellent protection from drafts and heat loss. Even lighter curtains can still be a great, low-cost way to boost the efficiency of your heating system. South-facing windows receive the most sunlight during the winter, so keep those curtains open during the day to capture heat from the sun. Keep all other curtains and drapes closed to cut down on drafts, and close the south-facing curtains at night. Properly-used curtains can reduce heat loss by 10 percent.3
6. Check your electrical outlets
One of the most common sources of heat loss and drafty air are the electrical outlets installed in exterior walls. That's because there's often a gap between the wall insulation and the boxes that contain the wiring for the outlet. Unscrew and remove the outlet cover plate. Fill up any gaps around the electrical box with acrylic caulk or spray foam insulation, then cover the plate itself with an outlet insulator, which you can buy at the hardware store.
7. Seal cracks around pipes
In every home, there are places where pipes pass through walls, ceilings, and floors. In each of these spots, there might be a gap or crack that allows cold air to circulate through the house. Take a careful look under your sinks and fill any gaps with caulk or spray foam insulation, especially where pipes pass into unheated spaces like an unfinished basement.
8. Cool down the water heater
Heating the air in your home is only part of your winter heating bill. On average, water heaters eat up about 17 percent a home's energy use.4 The easiest way to reduce the energy consumption of a conventional water heater is to turn the temperature down to 120°F. You can save 3 to 5 percent on your water heating costs for every 10°F you lower your water temperature.4 Another way to make your water heater more efficient is to insulate it with a fitted cover. Just make sure not to cover up the thermostat or the burner compartment. Consult your heater's manufacturer for specific insulation guidelines.
9. Cover the attic door
Stepping into an unheated and unfinished attic in the middle of winter is like walking into an igloo. If your attic floor is properly insulated - experts recommend at least seven inches of fiberglass batting - it can prevent massive amounts of heat loss from below. But even the best attic insulation often skips one important piece, the attic access door. You can build an insulating box using these step-by-step instructions from the Department of Energy.
10. Get an HVAC check-up
It pays to have your HVAC serviced at least once a year. For a reasonable price - $100 to $150 a visit - an HVAC professional will go over your entire system, lubricating moving parts, cleaning out debris and clogs, and ensuring that the system is working at maximum efficiency. You can do your part, too, by replacing the filter every two to three months, depending on whether you have pets or allergies. A clean, well-maintained furnace can save you another five percent on your heating bill.1
Pro Tip: If you have ceiling fans, reverse their direction to push the warm air down from the ceiling.
By following these steps, you can put a major dent in your monthly heating bill. Even better, since most of them cost little to nothing to put into place, all your savings can stay in your wallet.