25 Low-Cost Ways to Lower Your Winter Utility Bills

It’s no secret that the cost of natural gas and electricity have both risen dramatically in the past twelve months. In fact, overall inflation hasn’t been this high since 1982.

Even if you’ve done everything you can to prepare your home for winter, you’ll need to adopt a whole new set of habits in order to stay even with the current volatility in utility prices.

As families assess their finances and make adjustments, trying to save money on energy bills is sure to come to the top of their list. Fortunately, there are a multitude of free or low-cost ways to decrease energy usage and, hopefully, lower utility bills each month.

To hear in-depth information on each of the tips discussed in this article, watch our YouTube video, below.

Along with avoiding energy wasting habits, use these strategies to stretch your dollars and save on energy bills.

(Posts on Under the Median contain affiliate links. When you click on one of these links and purchase a product, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. Thank you.)

1. Bundle Up

Although it’s not necessary to don your winter coat, a scarf, and mittens indoors, you should concentrate on keeping your core warm.

Putting on a good pair of long underwear, long pants, heavy socks, shoes, long sleeves, and a sweater will go a long way in keeping your comfortable and warm in your home.

2. Lower the thermostat

One of your main sources of “power” over your utility bill is your thermostat. It’s sometimes hard to convince family members to allow you to touch the Holy Grail, but here are some reasons it’s a good idea.

1. You sleep better at night when your bedroom is cooler in the winter.
2.You save 1-3% for every degree you turn down the thermostat.
3.Leaving your home at one temperature is inefficient for your HVAC system.

Lowering the temperature in your home at night is easy to do and makes sense. After all, you’ll be keeping warm underneath the blankets. Thus, the house doesn’t need to be as warm.

Likewise, lowering the thermostat during the day if no one is at home, is an easy cost-saving measure to take. Simply, program the thermostat to raise the temperature back up about forty-five minutes before you arrive back at home.

We follow our own advice and lowered our thermostat one degree each day when cold weather sets in. We keep lowering it until we really feel that we have reached the limit of our comfort level. Then, we raise the heat one degree and leave it there.

This really does work! We have done it for years and seen a savings of 1-2% per degree.

3. Program the Smart thermostat

Although experts estimate you’ll save between 10-12% on heating costs when you switch out your older analog thermostat for a newer model, you’ll never see savings unless you actually program the thermostat.

What is a smart thermostat?

Smart thermostats connect wirelessly with your computer or phone. So, you have total control, even when away from home. It is estimated that they save $10-$20 a month on your bill and cost under $200 to purchase new.

Here’s the key. You have to actually use it. It is estimated that up to 50% of people who purchase a smart thermostat, never program it.

Settings allow you to choose:

  • 7 day week (in which all the days are identical)
  • 5/1/1 (in which weekdays are identical/Saturday and Sunday are each different)
  • 5/2 (in which the two weekend days have the same heating and cooling settings)
  • You can also schedule each day of the week independently.

Newer Smart thermosats are compatible with Amazon’s Echo. Just say, “Alexa, lower the thermostat by four degrees” from the comfort of your desk, couch, or chair.

With a Smart thermostat, each day can be programmed separately, making it easy to vary the heating and cooling patterns according the individual needs of your family. Finally, some Smart thermostats actually “learn” your patterns and make adjustments based on your family’s usage.

Expert recommendations

Here are what experts recommend for your thermostat settings.

  • Summer settings: 78 degrees when home and several degrees higher (or off) when not home
  • Winter settings: 68 degrees when home and 10 degrees cooler when sleeping or gone

Look for rebates

Check your utility company to see if they are currently offer a rebate on a smart technology for your home. As of the writing of this eBook, my utility company is offering a $100 rebate.

4. Be sure the windows are closed – and locked

It is alarmingly easy for windows and doors to appear closed, but actually be letting in air. Check to be sure the windows are pulled firmly closed and then lock them.

By locking each window, you are providing a firmer seal and allowing less air exchange between the outdoors and the indoors.

5. Seal leaks and cracks

When you’re finished closing those windows, be sure to check for leaks and cracks. Believe it or not, the total amount of air leaking around the windows of an average home is equal to a two-food square hole.

That’s like leaving a window wide open, year-round!

Here is an inexpensive an easy-to-apply solution for keeping out drafts.

“Window putty” or “caulking cord” will seal cracks around and on the window frame. If you rent, you can still use it. It feels a little like clay or play dough, yet doesn’t dry out and comes off of surfaces easily, leaving them clean and unmarred.

Our favorite brand, Mortite, a clay-like product is pliable, which can be pushed into the cracks around windows, conforming to any surface. It’s inexpensive, incredibly easy to use, and comes off cleanly, leaving the surface of the window unmarred.

An easy, quick way to check for leaks, is to light a candle and hold it near the closed window on a windy day. If the flame pulls in a direction, you have a leak.

6. Cover your windows

In 2019, we endured weeks of sub-zero temperatures. As the mercury plummeted, I was astounded to see a clear line of solid ice not only where edges of the window met the sill, but also where the windows were welded together!

Here are three very inexpensive products that will provide an extra barrier of protection around and on your windows.

Plastic window covering kits

Plastic window covering kits are incredibly inexpensive. Yet, they offer an additional layer of insulation between the interior of your home and the colder outside temperatures.

Foam core or styrofoam

A second method is to use foam core or sheets of styrofoam. Just cut it to the size of your window, put it in place and then use Mortite or another material to keep it from slipping out of the window area.

Bubble wrap

For a possible no-cost solution, use bubble wrap. To apply it, use a damp rag to apply a thin layer of water to the window. Place the bubble wrap against the window. It will stick! If it starts to slide after a few weeks, just peel off, add a new thin layer of water, and re- stick it.

My cousin said that her bubble wrap stayed up on her son’s bedroom window all winter long.

7. Seal the bottom of doors

We don’t often consider the crack between the bottom of exterior home doors as being a source of energy loss. Yet, it is!

To seal this area of concern, take these steps.

  1. Open the door and examine the seal along the bottom of the door. Is it worn, torn, or even missing?
  2. Remove the old seal.
  3. Replace with a new foam draft stopper. These are inexpensive and easy to install.
  4. For a no-installation solution (or for an interior door), a draft stopper can be purchased for under $20. These long cloth tubes are filled with sand to give them some weight and help them stay positioned up against the bottom of the door.
  5. You can easily and quickly create your own draft stopper from old socks filled with beans, sand, and plastic bags. Here’s a no-sew tutorial.

8. Insulate behind outlets

Outlets are, basically, holes cut into your wall to allow a path for running electrical connections. This means that there is dead space behind each outlet, through which air can flow.

Foam outlet insulation sealers are very thin sheets of flexible styrofoam in the size and shape of a standard wall outlet. To install, simply remove the outlet faceplate by unscrewing it, cut away any area of the foam rectangle that you don’t need for that outlet, lay the foam insulation piece over the outlet, and then reinstall the outlet faceplate, screwing it back on.

Although helpful, ultimately you may still be able to feel air coming through your outlets on exterior walls.

Here’s why.

If you hold your hand near outlets on an exterior wall and feel cold air seeping through, you are most likely experiencing the stack effect.

Warm air always rises, seeking a way to escape your home. Most often, this happens through the roof. When it exits, that air creates a vacuum, meaning that colder air will now be pulled up from the lower (and colder) levels of your home. The path of least resistance for this air is through your home’s walls.

Anywhere there’s a hole of any size leading outdoors, outside air will get into the structure and gradually move upwards.

You can fix this problem with the next tip.

9. Insulate the rim joists

You can alleviate much of the stack effect by insulating the rim joists. This is the area where the ceiling of the basement meets the floor above it. It’s an incredibly common area for air leakage in your home and could be costing you money every month on your utility bills.

Having a professional spray in foam insulation will cost you just a few hundred dollars and is well worth the price.

10. Open the drapes

When you get a warm day, let the light in. This works great for windows with Southern exposure. They get the most direct sunlight. However, as soon as the sun starts getting low in the sky, you’ll need to close the drapes again, to hold the heat inside and guard against the cooler night temperatures coming into your home.

11. Hang heavy curtains

Our first rental home was a century old home. In winter, I watched the drapes physically move when the cold winds and snow blew against the house. We found some cheap, lined drapes at Goodwill and our comfort level increased as we saved money on our utility bills.

How to choose drapes

When selecting drapes, keep in mind that closely woven, dark fabric will help retain heat. Lined drapes can be fairly inexpensive and also add an extra layer, which can actually be beneficial year-round.

Remember, closing drapes during the heat of the day traps cool air in the summer and keeps rooms cooler in summer. But, during winter, closing drapes and lowering blinds helps prevent unnecessary drafts and heat loss.

What if you can’t afford new drapes?

Simply drape a pretty quilt, blanket, or curtain panel over the curtain rod during winter. It will add an extra layer and help block the colder outside air. Be certain whatever you are hanging isn’t too heavy for the curtain rod. Test it carefully before draping it and leaving the room.

12. Close off unused rooms

If you have rooms in your home which are largely unused, consider shutting the door and leaving them unheated. It’s beneficial to see if you can also shut off the individual air duct to those spaces

Finally, a homemade or store-bought draft stopper in front of the door will help keep colder air in the unused rooms.

13. Move your furniture

If you enjoy changing up the look of a room periodically, the onset of colder weather is a great reason to indulge in creatively rearranging a room.

Move couches and chairs away from windows and place them next to heat ducts. But, be sure heat ducts are not blocked by furniture. A good rule of thumb is to keep furniture at least three feet away from all ducts.

If this isn’t possible, just be certain that the air can circulate in the room and sources of heat aren’t completely blocked from functioning to move air.

14. Use ceiling fans

Although this may seem counterproductive, a fan can be an asset when it comes to helping to heat your home.

During winter, turn your ceiling fan on the lowest setting and then switch the blades to turn clockwise. The movement of the blades will push the hot air at the top of the room downward, allowing it to travel toward the floor. Thus, you’ll feel warmer.

15. Replace your furnace filters

One of the biggest mistakes consumers make is not replacing their furnace filter often enough. When dirt and debris become trapped in the filter, your furnace will run less efficiently and also cycle far more often.

You may find that by simply changing the filter, you are able to reduce your energy usage and, ultimately, your bill.

Choosing a furnace filter

Furnace filters receive a minimum efficiency reporting value, called MERV for short. This rating ranges from 1-16. The higher the number, the smaller the holes and the greater the efficiency.

Those numbered 6-12 are designed for home use, while the higher values are for specialized facilities, like hospitals.

Not only do higher value filters trap more contaminants, they also get clogged faster.

You may also consider the difference between flat and pleated filters. Flat filters clog more easily than pleated ones. The deeper the ridges, the greater surface area, meaning that the filter will last longer. Airborne particles simply have more space to collect before the filter gets dirty and needs to be changed.

NOTE: Both heating and cooling systems should be checked and maintained bi-annually. HVAC specialists will often offer a discount if you sign up for yearly maintenance program.

16. Use electric blankets

Unlike older models, the newest generation of electric blankets are designed to use less power and offer the user a multitude of power levels. You can tell the unit to run a certain number of hours and then it will automatically shut off.

Taotronics sent us some products to try out and we have found them to be easy-to-use, and well-made.

We love our electric blankets from Taotronics and highly recommend them. They are come in pretty colors, are soft, very comfortable, and have worked flawlessly.

17. Use other auxiliary heating sources

Although fireplaces are nostalgic, they waste 90% of the heat as it travels up the chimney. Freestanding wood burning stoves allow you to heat a larger area and may even be able to supply most of the heating needs for small homes.

Natural gas wall heaters are safe and cost less to purchase and install than wood burning stoves.

We have three kerosene heaters in various sizes and shapes and love the warmth and ease of use. Although they do put off a bit of a smell when first lit, we have never found that to be problematic.

Finally, space heaters are probably the best known of the auxiliary heating choices around today.

Heating a small portion of your home or a single room, instead of raising the thermostat is always a good idea and helps you save on energy costs.

Our Taotronics heater is tall, easy-to-carry, and well-designed. It has an automatic shut off safety feature in case it is tipped over and comes with a remote so you can run it from anywhere in the room.

Special Offer from Taotronics

With all heating devices, proper care must be taken to ensure safety when operating and storing each of them.

18. Humidifiers

Humidifiers will add moisture to a room, making it feel more comfortable and warmer. So, turning on your humidifier may very well allow you to turn the thermostat down a degree or two.

19. Add insulation to your attic

If you ever seen a thermal image of heat loss from a home (I have), you’d notice that most of the tell-tale red streaks of heat loss are emanating from the roof line. In fact, it is estimated that 85% of our home’s heat loss can be traced right to the roofline.

What is R-Value?

The US Department of Energy defines it as, “An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value — the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.

Energy standards, and the products designed to protect and increase efficiency, have both grown by leaps and bounds over the past four decades. Homes built prior to the 1970’s have no insulation in the walls and are notorious for their lack of insulation in the attic. What passed for acceptable in terms of R-value in the past is looked at as synonymous with “no help at all” in the year 2020.

Adding insulation to your attic

Laying more insulation in your attic isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. You must also seal leaks with caulk, foam, or other materials. If you are not confident that your work will pass electrical, code, and safety laws, you need to hire a professional!

20. Lower the temperature of your hot water heater

Often overlooked, domestic water heating can account for up to 18% of the average families utility cost.

On-demand water heaters are more efficient as they lack a storage tank and are far more efficient at supplying water in a shorter period of time. However, they are also rather expensive to purchase and have installed.

If you have a conventional heater which stores hot water in the tank at all times, the cost of simply keeping that water warm for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, can be as high as $100 a year.

The factory setting on water heaters is 140 degrees. When you lower it to 120 degrees, you’ll save 6-10 percent each month.

Here’s another reminder. If you’re gone more than 48 hours, consider lower the water heater to “vacation” setting. There’s no sense heating water when there’s no one at home to use it.

21.   Wrap your hot water heater in a blanket

Giving your water heater a warm hug, can save you money. Hot water blankets are insulated, fire-resistant, and very easy to install. They cost under $50 and yet, will save you as much as $4 a month. Thus, you will paid yourself back for the investment in just twelve, short months.

22. Wrap your pipes

When water flows through your pipes to get to the faucet, you’ll lose heat along the way. But, when you insulate the warm water pipes, you’Il save both time and money.

There is 2-4 degrees less loss in water temperatures and you won’t have to wait as long for the hot water to reach the faucet.

23. Wrap vent ducts

When it comes to vents, it’s what you can’t see that causes you to lose money. The ductwork is in the attic. When you wrap the vent in insulation, you’ll considerably reduce the heat loss.

24. Insulate anything that vents to the outside

We had no idea that much of the energy from our home was escaping through natural openings was until we had an energy assessment done by our local utility provider. The infrared photos showed a marked leakage of energy coming through even closed fan louvers.

Not only that, the whole house fan lay just six feet from our house thermostat, meaning that the cold air coming through the vents was giving false signals to the thermostat, causing the heat to kick on more often.

An insulated whole house fan cover greatly reduced the heat loss and stopped the constant cycling of our furnace.

Dryer vents and bathroom vents are two other areas of air leakage that you may need to take into consideration in your home. from bathroom vents, dryer vents, and our whole house fan.

25. Use a Kill-a-Watt Meter to measure electric usage

A Kill-a-Watt meter allows you to quickly and easily determine the electric usage of any item that plugs into a socket. We use a Kill-a-Watt meter all the time to help us plan out our use of technology and appliances. In this way, we can deliberately use items more often which consume fewer watts of power, allowing us to save spend less on our utility bills.

Costing less than $30, a Kill-a-Watt meter is one of the best investments we’ve ever made in helping us know where were are spending the most money on electricity.

Need more help?

Request my free home energy checklist. You’ll learn twenty, easy, free or low-cost ways to save energy throughout your home.

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