This winter could be a costly one – at least for those who need to heat their homes.
Compared to last year, the average family will pay about 17% more for heating this season, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. Going back to 2020, it’s a jaw-dropping 35% increase.
Unfortunately, heating costs are just one of the many services that Americans have seen rise in price amid surging inflation. On the bright side, they’re also one of the easiest to control.
“Just lower the thermostat,” says Traci Fournier, vice president of operations at One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, a nationwide HVAC repair company based in Columbia, Maryland. “It’s the simplest way to directly lower your home heating costs.”
She’s right: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for just eight hours a day can reduce your heating and cooling costs by as much as 10%.
“If you do this while you sleep or are away at work, you’ll score savings without compromising comfort,” Fournier says. “Every degree counts.”
Dropping your home’s temperature isn’t your only option, though. Here are more ways you can reduce your heating costs this winter.
READ:How to Winterize a House ]
Take Care of Your System
Basic care and maintenance are vital if you want your HVAC system at its most efficient. To start, make sure your system’s intake vents are clear of dust and obstacles and change your filters regularly.
“No matter the season, your HVAC filter is working to remove airborne pollutants,” says Darcy Lee, senior product manager at Trane Residential, which sells heating and cooling systems nationwide. “By not cleaning or changing your filter every 30 to 90 days, those pollutants will continue building up on your filter and make your system work harder than necessary to move air – which translates into higher energy bills.”
You should also schedule an annual tuneup with a local HVAC professional. During this appointment, the technician will inspect your system, including the controls, connections and fluid levels.
“Your furnace should be tuned up every year, ideally before the heating season starts,” Fournier says. “A thorough tuneup includes several checks and adjustments that can make your furnace run more efficiently and often makes it possible to catch and repair small problems before they can turn into expensive ordeals.”
Check Your Windows and Doors
“These are the main points of entry into your home for unwelcomed weather and drafts, so investing into those is a sure way to conserve energy,” says Greg Crouse, product marketing manager at Leaf Home, a nationwide home solutions provider based in Hudson, Ohio.
To start, check around the doors and windows for any gaps or spaces where air might be leaking in. You can also look around spots where pipes enter your home.
“Tiny gaps and cracks in windows and doors can result in a serious loss of energy,” says Lane Dixon, vice president of operations at Aire Serv, a nationwide HVAC servicing company based in Waco, Texas. “Use weatherstripping or caulk to seal cracks and openings in window frames and doors. For gaps around pipes, seal them with expanding foam insulation.”
Finally, you can opt to replace doors and windows altogether. For the most effective upgrade, look for products with a high R-value, which indicates a higher level of insulation.
Switch Your Ceiling Fan
It sounds counterintuitive to turn your ceiling fans on in the winter, but according to pros, it can actually help keep your home warmer.
“Ceiling fans aren’t just for summertime,” Fournier says. “Flip the directional switch so that your fan blades turn clockwise, and run the fans on low speed in occupied rooms. This will create an updraft that will gently circulate the warmest air, which lingers near the ceiling.”
Just don’t forget to turn any fans off when you leave a room. Leaving them on will only run up those utility costs.
Let There Be Light
Leveraging natural light as much as possible can help decrease heating costs. To do this, note what times of day the sun hits each side of your home.
“The sun gives away heat for free, even in the winter,” Fournier says. “So when it’s shining on your home, open the curtains and blinds on sun-facing windows to let those warming rays into the room.”
Make sure to close the drapes at sundown, though, or whenever the sun moves away from that side of the home.
As Lee explains, “Your blinds and curtains act as secondary insulators and help keep cold air from seeping in.”
Switch to Smart Systems
Another easy strategy is to install a smart thermostat – like those offered by Nest, Ecobee or Trane.
“These next-gen thermostats learn your patterns and automatically adjust the temperature for max efficiency and energy savings,” Lee says. “You can program them remotely and get real-time performance alerts. When connected, you can control lights, locks, and several other smart home appliances.”
Even better are the savings they come with. Smart thermostats can save you an average of 8% on your heating and cooling bills per year, according to ENERGY STAR.
READ:Smart Technology for Landlords ]
Use a Space Heater or Fireplace
For times when you only need to heat a single room, a fireplace or space heater can often do the trick.
“If you’re not in an area with prolonged – think seven or more days of sub-32-degree weather – then you can save on heating costs by just using a space heater in the rooms that you need,” says Tim David, a heating and air conditioning specialist and CEO at Airlucent in Huntsville, Alabama. “Also, if you have both a central heating system and a fireplace, you can save on the energy bill by turning the temperature down on your thermostat so that it will run less and run the fireplace to generate warmth instead.”
Keep in mind that unvented space heaters can pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always use a vented model when using a space heater indoors.
Install a Geothermal Heat Pump
The Department of Energy says that geothermal heat pumps, which extract warmth from the ground underneath your home, are one of the most efficient heating systems available, using anywhere from 25% to 50% less electricity than traditional options.
“Heat pumps are much more energy-efficient because they do not rely on natural gas and, therefore, are a more stable and reliable source of energy,” says Ken West, president of Honeywell Advanced Materials in New York. “For every unit of electricity that you put into a heat pump, it generates between three and five units of heat.”
Not all homes are suited for geothermal heat pumps, though, so if this is something you’re considering, have a local installer evaluate your property.
Get an Energy Audit
Finally, consider getting an energy audit on your home. These are professional evaluations of your home’s energy use that can help you determine areas for improvement.
You can use the Residential Energy Service Network to find an energy assessor in your area or ask your energy provider. Sometimes, local government agencies will offer energy audits as well.