How to Save Money on Energy Bills
For most families, energy costs are a significant part of their monthly expenses. Fortunately, this is an area where almost all of us can save money, often with very little effort or expense. This page deals primarily with ways to save money on heating and electricity costs.
Before discussing specific ways to save money on heating, it's necessary to talk a bit about the comparative costs of different energy sources. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to generalize because there are wide variations in both the cost and the availability of different kinds of energy in different parts of the country.
For example, where I live out in the boondocks, we have no natural gas service, so that's not an option for me. But in most places in the United States where natural gas is available, it's presently the least expensive fuel source for heating.
On the other hand, electricity is relatively inexpensive where I live. That makes it an attractive alternative for heating, cooling, cooking, and pretty much anything else it can be used for because it's much cheaper than the alternatives (oil, propane, gasoline, kerosene, etc.).
Long story short, the first step in saving money on your heating bills is something that you're going to have to do yourself, namely, to compare the costs of different energy sources that are available where you live. It may be worth it to look into other sources of energy consumption such as solar, especially considering any tax credits that may be available.
Heat is Heat, No Matter Where it Comes From
The second thing you need to understand to save on your heating bills is that heat is heat. It doesn't matter where it comes from. It's also additive, which means that the more heat that you put into a house, the warmer it will get -- again, regardless of where that heat came from. Conversely, the more heat that is removed from the house, the cooler it will get.
When talking about adding and removing heat, we have to think in terms of three different kinds of heat transactions:
- Actively-added heat means heat that was generated using a furnace, boiler, electric heater, wood stove, or some other appliance than converts an energy source into heat. This is heat that we pay for. Its cost is a function of the cost of the fuel and the efficiency of the device.
- Passively-added heat means heat that is added to the house by the sun, and by things inside the house that incidentally give off heat (incandescent lights, some appliances, bodies, etc.). This heat is free, but it's as good as any other. Remember: Heat is heat.
- Lost heat means heat that leaves the home through the walls, ceilings and floors; through doors and windows; through foundation walls; by way of exhaust fans; etc.
Reducing heating costs, then, consists of three different parts: Firstly, using the cheapest available active heat sources to provide the greatest possible amounts of heat; secondly, maximizing the use of passive heat sources; and thirdly, minimizing heat loss.
How I Save About $600.00 a Month on Heating Costs
Bearing the above in mind, let's consider my own situation as an example. The house I live in has propane heat, which is fairly expensive. To heat the whole house to 68° F. in the winter using just the propane furnace would cost me about $750.00 - $1,000.00 a month at the propane prices current as of this writing. Ouch! So here were the options I looked at.
Converting the propane furnace to run on less-expensive natural gas would be very easy if it natural gas were available where I live, but it's not. So that option's out.
Converting to oil would make no sense because it's a dirty fuel and would require replacing the furnace; and besides, right now, oil is even more expensive than propane on a BTU basis. So oil is out.
Wood's a cheap, plentiful heat source here, but I don't want to install a wood stove because I'm not sure whether the landlord is going to be willing to sell me the house. (Why improve someone else's property?)
That leaves electricity, which is not quite as cheap as wood, but which is much less expensive than propane. So here's what I did.
My bedroom and bath are on the second floor of a large, two-story house. The kitchen, living room, a guest bedroom, my office, and another bathroom are on the first floor. So the first and easiest step to saving money on heat was to close the heat registers on the second floor, and move into the guest room for the winter. (When I have guests, I just open the registers upstairs while they're here, and they stay upstairs.)
I also purchased an EdenPURE heater, which is a popular brand of infrared space heater, and put it in the living room; and two electric oil-filled radiators -- one for the office, and one for the first-floor bedroom. I spend most of my waking hours in my office, and most of my sleeping hours in the bedroom; so using the electric heaters in those rooms while I'm in them allows me to heat only those rooms, only while I'm in then, using the cheapest available heat source.
The EdenPURE heater in the living room provides heat to the living room and the kitchen (there's no wall between them), and does so at a much lower cost than the propane heat. Remember: Heat is heat, and it is additive; so the more "cheap" heat is added by the electric heaters, the less "expensive" heat the propane furnace has to provide.
Finally, I have large, south-facing, thermal-pane windows in the living room and the office. I hung energy-saving curtains on them, but on sunny days, I open the curtains to take advantage of all that free, passive heat provided by the sun. Otherwise, the curtains stay closed to take advantage of the extra insulation they provide.
So, how much money do I save?
Well, I just paid my electric bill, and the cost for running the electric heaters was about $140.00 this past month. That's more than usual because it's been exceptionally cold. (It's -8° Fahrenheit outside as I write this page.) But my propane bill was only about $150.00, making my total heating cost for this cold month about $290.00. When you consider that it would cost about $900.00 or so to heat the house using only propane, that's a pretty big savings -- roughly $600.00 for the month.
Bear in mind that my example is based on my own situation, and what works for me might not work for you. I live in a cold part of the country, I have a propane-fired furnace, and electricity is relatively cheap compared to propane. If I had natural gas, then my strategy would be different, because natural gas is a less-expensive heat source than electricity (although it would still make sense to use electric heaters to add heat to rooms that need to be a bit warmer than the rest of the house).
More Common-Sense Energy-Saving Strategies
Here are some other ideas to help reduce heating costs during the winter. Most of them are just common sense, but I'll list them here anyway.
Turn the Thermostat Down. Those last few degrees of temperature rise can consume quite a bit of energy. Buy some sweaters, turn the thermostat down a few degrees, and save money.
Keep the Door Closed. Every time you open a door in the winter, you lose precious heat. So don't go in and out unnecessarily. Combine reasons for opening the door to reduce the heat loss.
Okay, I know that sounds strange. But think about it this way: You lose a tremendous amount of heat every time you open the door, and that heat has to be replaced. If you have to check your mail, take out the trash, and throw some salt on the walk, doing all three chores in one "trip" through the door will reduce your heat loss by 67 percent.
Lock the Windows. Sash locks aren't there just for security. They're also designed to pull the sashes toward each other to create a tight seal. Unlocked windows significantly increase passive heat loss, and replacing that lost heat costs money.
Take Advantage of Passive Heat. On bright, sunny days, pull back the curtains from the windows facing the sun.
Use Door Snakes. Door snakes help reduce drafts and heat loss from under doors. If you don't have door snakes, rolled-up towels works almost as well.
Don't Overuse the Exhaust Fans. When you take a shower, the exhaust fan draws the steam and moisture out of the bathroom to prevent mold and mildew. But that fan also draws heat out of the house -- heat that you will have to replace. So leave it on only as long as necessary. (This goes for kitchen range exhaust fans, as well, if they are vented to the outside.)
Check the Weatherstripping. Again, this seems obvious; but weatherstripping doesn't last forever. Over time, it can harden, rot, or be damaged by birds and animals, losing its insulating effectiveness.
Use Energy-Saving Winter Curtains. Energy-saving curtains can dramatically reduce heat loss through windows.
Use Zone Heating Strategies. Maybe you can sleep comfortably with the temperature at 62 degrees, but you have a baby who needs it a bit warmer. Consider putting an infrared space heater in the baby's room to raise the temperature those last few degrees, rather than raising the thermostat for the whole house.