It’s an unfortunate fact every season: as temperatures go down, heating costs go up. The average American household spends up to $1,500 on heating, most of it during the fall and winter months. It also accounts for the vast majority of a family’s energy usage.
This year, the National Energy Assistance Directors Association estimates that gas bills could rise up to 30% over the coming winter, as natural gas shoots up to their highest prices since 2014. This can be challenging for households affected by the Covid pandemic and the sluggish economy.
To help you out, here are 5 practical tips to help lower your heating costs.
Tip 1: Clean those filters
The air filter is a critical component of your heating system. It filters dust, dirt and impurities from reaching the heating element, allowing the furnace to work more efficiently.
Cleaning or replacing dirty filters on your furnace can make a dramatic difference. According to the Department of Energy, a clean filter can chop 5 to 15% off your heating bill.
Tip 2: Adjust that thermostat
Since the advent of centralized heating in the 60s, average home temperatures in the US have risen to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 68 degrees F at night.
However, most families can still be comfortable at lower temperatures. A good setting that balances comfort and savings would be 68 degrees during the day. At night, you can lower the thermostat to as low as 60 degrees, since you can make up the balance with thick comforters and plush bedding.
The DOE estimates that households can save as much as 10% annually by lowering the thermostat down by 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day.
Tip 3: Know when to bring on the heat
The EPA estimates that up to a quarter of household heating is wasted while nobody is home. A smart thermostat can cut down on the wastage by kicking only when needed. Program the thermostat to turn on about 30 minutes before you get home, and you can save up to 20% off your monthly bill.
Tip 4: Switch the thermostat fan to auto
If you’ve always wondered what “Fan Auto” meant on your thermostat, it means the fans kick only when the heater is being used. Otherwise, leaving the fan to “On” means it’s always operating, which is a waste of energy and leads to higher power bills.
Tip 5: Heat only where it’s needed
While most of us take central heating for granted, the truth is much of it can be wasted. If the family tends to congregate around specific rooms, then there’s no need to heat the whole house.
For instance, if everyone tends to stay in the living room, a space heater may be more practical than turning on the whole house furnace. You can also rearrange the room to make the heat convection more efficient, such as bringing the heater closer to everyone and reversing the ceiling fan blades so it spreads heat throughout the room.
Tip 6: Use the fireplace wisely
One of the most iconic scenes of winter is a roaring fireplace. However, it’s also by far the least efficient way to heat a home. Unless you have a traditional wood-burning fireplace, using a gas or electric fireplace can end up being more costly than the furnace.
Experts recommend using the fireplace less than 5 times a year. When not being used, make sure the flue is tightly closed to prevent hot air from escaping out into the cold.
Tip 7: Optimize your hot water heater
Water heaters are typically set to 170 degrees Fahrenheit at the factory, allowing them to quickly generate hot water while maintaining operational lifespan. However, the human body can tolerate much lower temperatures. Consider setting it to 120 degrees, which is still comfortable enough for a hot shower while being friendlier on your wallet.
Also make sure your pipes stay insulated. Even if they are, most water heaters come with minimal insulation. Adding extra insulation in the form of pre-cut jackets can dramatically reduce standby heat loss by 25% to 45%.
Tip 8: Check if your provider has budget billing
Some utility providers offer “budget billing”, where they examine your historical energy usage and come up with an average cost for you to pay each month. This will allow you to budget your monthly expenditure and know when it’s time to cut back on heating use.
For households heavily dependent on natural gas, the Natural Gas Association recommends taking a look at the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. This federal program helps poorer families pay their energy bills, but households that earn up to $40,000 a year may still qualify.
For more bill cutting tips, check out our earlier entry on reducing heating costs.