4 Things You Can Do to Reduce Heating Costs in Winter

The Energy Information Administration says the cost of heating your home will likely be higher compared to 2020, as prices for heating fuels like natural gas, propane, and kerosene either return to exceed pre-covid levels.

The EIA estimates that natural gas will hit $3.71/MMBTu through September, for an average price of $3.42 for 2021. That’s a considerable rise from the 2020 average of $2.03/MMBtu. In fact, this upward trend was already evident during the summer, when natural gas prices soared to their highest levels since 2014.

So what can you do to reduce costs without necessarily reducing that homely warmth this season? 

 

Tip #1: Check your Insulation 

According to the Department of Energy, poor insulation is one of the biggest culprits of heat loss at home in winter. Heat flows from warm spots to cool spots. This means that without proper insulation, it will escape to unheated areas of the house like the attic, basement, or garage.

Insulation Type Materials Used Where
Blanket: batts and rolls Fiberglass

Mineral (rock or slag) wool

Plastic fibers

Natural fibers

Unfinished walls, including foundation walls

Floors and ceilings

Concrete block insulation Foam board, to be placed on outside of wall (usually new construction) or inside of wall (existing homes):

Some manufacturers incorporate foam beads or air into the concrete mix to increase R-values

Unfinished walls, including foundation walls

New construction or major renovations

Walls (insulating concrete blocks)

Foam board or rigid foam Polystyrene

Polyisocyanurate

Polyurethane

Unfinished walls, including foundation walls

Floors and ceilings

Unvented low-slope roofs

Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) Foam boards or foam blocks Unfinished walls, including foundation walls for new construction
Loose-fill and blown-in Cellulose

Fiberglass

Mineral (rock or slag) wool

Enclosed existing wall or open new wall cavities

Unfinished attic floors

Other hard-to-reach places

Reflective system Foil-faced kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard Unfinished walls, ceilings, and floors
Rigid fibrous or fiber insulation Fiberglass

Mineral (rock or slag) wool

Ducts in unconditioned spaces

Other places requiring insulation that can withstand high temperatures

Sprayed foam and foamed-in-place Cementitious

Phenolic

Polyisocyanurate

Polyurethane

Enclosed existing wall

Open new wall cavities

Unfinished attic floors

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) Foam board or liquid foam insulation core

Straw core insulation

Unfinished walls, ceilings, floors, and roofs for new construction

 

  • Some insulation lasts longer than others. For example, cellulose insulation, while eco-friendly, only has a lifespan of 20-30 years, with some starting to degrade as early as 15 years after installation. At the other end of the spectrum, fiberglass can last for 80-100 years. That said, insulation can start failing from fiberglass batts after 15-20 years, so they do require occasional inspection.

 

 

Improving your insulation is one of the biggest things you can do to lower your heating costs, which can improve by as much as 20%.

 

Tip #2: Seal Those Air Leaks

Once you’ve improved those R-values, it’s time to move on to the next culprit: air leaks. A house could have triple glazed windows and be clad in R6 insulation, but if it’s not airtight, then heat will find a way to escape through miniscule cracks and gaps to the outside cold.

  • Pinpoint weak spots. On the exterior, these are typically where two different building materials meet:
  • All the exterior corners of the house
  • Areas where the foundation meets the bottom brick or wall siding
  • Sidings and chimney connection
  • Window air conditioners
  • Exhaust fan housings
  • Outdoor faucets

On the interior side, check these spots:

  • Door and window frames
  • Vents and fans
  • Baseboards
  • Switch plates
  • Electrical outlets
  • Cable and phone lines

To test for leaks, pressurize your home:

  • Shut all doors, windows, and fireplace flues
  • Turn on all fans that blow air out of the house, such as exhaust fans and stove vents.
  • Use an incense stick around suspected leak sites. If the smoke gets sucked out, then there’s a draft.

 

Tip #3: Improve your Humidity

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. A higher humidity level makes us feel warmer, despite the temperature being the same. With a little ingenuity, this means you can make your body feel comfortable without raising the thermostat.

  • Use a humidifier. These are devices that raise the humidity by releasing steam or water vapor into the air. In addition to making you feel warmer, they also improve the air quality, reduce the risks of static electricity shocks and dry skin, and help mitigate the wood damage caused by dry air in winter.

 

  • Cook on the stovetop. If you don’t have a humidifier, the next best thing is to let water boil, which can be done using the stove. Opt for more stovetop cooking instead of the microwave, and leave the lids off pots and pans to increase the amount of moisture being released.

 

  • Allow laundry to hang dry. Instead of using the clothes dryer, hang your laundry to air dry inside the house. Not only do you increase your humidity, you also lower your utility cost by foregoing the dryer.

 

  • Know how to use the shower. Whenever you take a hot bath, steam is released into the air. Make the most of it by leaving the bathroom door open (if possible), and leaving the shower door or curtain open after bathing to allow the steam to disperse outside the bathroom. 

 

  • Add some houseplants. Indoor plants help improve both humidity and air quality, acting as an air cleaner and humidifier in one. Tropical plants with large leaves like palms and philodendrons are ideal for this task. Here’s a list of other humidifying plants.

 

Tip #4: Improve the Heat Circulation

Instead of turning up the heat, there are several ways you can optimize the hot air that circulates in living spaces.

  • Rearrange your furniture. Sometimes appliances or household objects can block a heating event, obstructing the flow of hot air. 

 

  • Conversely, if you have an infrared heater, you may want to place your favorite chair nearer to it, so that it heats up first instead of the surrounding air. 

 

  • Close off unused rooms. The best way to retain heat is to concentrate it in areas that matter. 

 

  • To effectively seal off unused spaces, you can tuck a draft blocker or towel at the base of the door.

 

  • Maximize the sun. Open those blinds and curtains to the sunshine while keeping the windows tightly closed, to concentrate the warmth. At night, make sure those same blinds and curtains are tightly closed to add an extra layer of insulation against the window chill.

 

  • Make use of the ceiling fan. If you can, reverse the fan so the blades turn clockwise. This will allow the fan to pull the air upward instead of down. Since hot air rises, this will push the warm air trapped in the ceiling around the walls and into the room. 

 

If you want to learn the best way to heat your home, check out our comprehensive guide to home heating.

 

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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