It happens every year, yet each time the pain feels fresh and just as sharp. It cuts through your thickly padded jacket, follows you everywhere you go, keeps you awake at night, and makes it that much harder to drag yourself out of bed every morning.
We're not just talking about the winter cold. We're talking about the heating bill that comes with it.
Energy costs make up a significant portion of the average America's monthly budget, and in many parts of the country heating homes in the winter makes up a big part of the annual energy bill. Taking steps to make heating more efficient and more cost effective can pay huge dividends over decades of home ownership, can help you even out costs and prevent that heart-sinking feeling when you open that wintertime utility bill.
Some of these tips come with a fair amount of upfront costs, but they're well worth while in the long run. Others can be accomplished relatively cheaply and can produce immediate benefits in terms of comfort and cost savings.
Use Your Furnace as Sparingly as Possible
OK, so starting off our list of cost cutting tips for your cold season HVAC with "just use it less" might not seem especially useful, but think about it: every other tactic we're about to mention ultimately comes down to you needing to run your furnace less. The less heat you need, the less energy you use, and the less money you'll spend.
If your family usually only congregates in a few rooms of the house, you might consider individual space heaters for those rooms rather than heating the whole house at all times. Space heaters for bedrooms can also save you energy and money overnight while also letting everyone choose the right temperature for their comfort level.
There's also the simple solution of setting the thermostat a little lower than you might like and dressing warmer around the house. Keep blankets handy on couches and chairs and grab some comfy clothes to lounge in and you can actually make the wintertime quite cozy. Of course, use this strategy only to the degree that it makes sense for you—there's not a need to have icicles forming on your eyebrows just to save a few bucks.
Keep Your House Closed Up
All that yelling your parents did about closing the door really did have a point, maybe even more than they knew. Heat loss through open entryways and windows is huge, and the bigger the temperature difference between the indoors and the outdoors—that is, the colder it is outside—the more significant the heat loss will be for every minute your door stands open.
If your home has a "mudroom" or other entry area that can be closed off both to the outside and to the rest of your home, using that as the primary way of entering and exiting can significantly reduce the amount of heat lost each time someone comes or goes. Keeping at least one door closed at all times will limit the amount of air and thus heat that can be exchanged.
Keeping windows closed will also help, of course. Anything you can do to limit the amount of air that moves between your home and the outdoors will reduce the amount you'll need to run your furnace to keep the temperature where you want it. That takes us to…
Create a Better Seal Around Your Home
Gaps around doors and windows—between the door/window and its frame and/or between the frame and the surrounding wall—are very common, especially in older homes. Many of these may be all but invisible, but even a tiny space that lets cold air in and hot air out in a constant, steady stream can have a measurable impact on your heating and energy needs. Larger gaps, including those that can easily be spotted with the naked eye are even more damaging to your budget.
Eventually, you'll want to replace or fully repair any doors or windows that have started to show gaps due to settling and weathering (see below). In all but the worst cases, however, there are other steps you can take to see an immediate improvement without the expense of new construction.
For the smallest gaps that generally can't be seen but whose airflow can be felt, caulking the interior and/or exterior of a window frame or door frame—and around the edges of a window pane, though not around the sash of a moving window—can provide an air- and weather-tight plastic sheeting can also be used to cover the interior of window openings during the winder; sealing down the edges slows the transfer of heat through unsealed and older single-paned windows.
You can also purchase adhesive foam strips to seal gaps around doors and windows that don't close completely or that don't sit completely flush in their frames. Each of these methods is ultimately only temporary, but ongoing touch-ups can keep you warm and cozy across several winters.
Replace Doors and Windows for a Stronger Heat Envelope
Finally, replacing older doors and windows with newer options designed with efficiency in mind can lead to a dramatic difference in your energy usage. Though the cost of these renovations won't be recouped in terms of direct energy savings for several years, they will eventually pay off and will also increase the value of your home.
Older windows are not only more likely to have gaps around the glass, sashes, and frames, but they also tend to be single-paned. This allows for a large amount of heat transfer through the glass itself, even without any airflow. Today's windows are dual- or even triple-paned, often with an inert gas between the panes that resists changes in temperature. This helps keeps the cold outside and the heat inside; modernizing your old home's windows can reduce your heating needs by as much as half.
The more you can invest, the more you can save, but there's plenty anyone can do to stay warm and stick to their budget this winter. We hope these heating tips help, and be sure to stay tuned for more!