15 ways to lower your winter utility bills

During the winter, most Maryland homeowners heat their homes to 70-degrees or more. It’s inevitable that some heat will escape through the walls, ductwork, roof, windows, doors, chimney, vents, and floor. The more your house leaks, the more money you’ll pay to stay comfortable. We’re showing you 15 ways to lower your winter heating bill.

15 ways to lower your winter heating bill
Tired of household drafts, that leave you snuggling up in a blanket all winter long? Try some of these ways to lower your utility bill.
1. Check air filters monthly

Changing your air filters is one of the easiest ways to reduce your utility bill. Set an alert on your smartphone, so you’re reminded each month to check the air filter.

If it’s dirty, clean it or replace it. Your HVAC system works harder to push air through a dirty air filter. So, a clean air filter automatically reduces your energy use and your utility bill.

2. Use your ceiling fan

While ceiling fans are most commonly thought of to keep you cool during the summer, they help in the winter too.

In the winter, operate the ceiling fan in a clockwise direction. Warm air rises, so a ceiling fan moving in a clockwise direction forces warm air near the ceiling down to the occupied space. It does this by creating an updraft. That is helpful in rooms with tall ceilings, where all the hot air rushes out of reach of its occupants.

If you’re using a ceiling fan, lower the temperature of your thermostat, to save money.

3. Schedule an inspection for your HVAC system

Like your car, your HVAC system needs regular maintenance to run smoothly. Have a certified technician inspect your furnace once a year. During the heating system maintenance, the HVAC technician cleans, inspects, and adjusts components.

4. Install smart technology

Smart Maintenance ensures you’re comfortable all winter long. Custom sensors predict and prevent breakdowns, and protect your comfort. It predicts up to 80-percent of HVAC issues with a monthly remote maintenance check.

If your heating system sends an urgent heating alert to you and Minnick’s, we’ll service the problem immediately and won’t make you pay for a service call. The notifications include a possible solution.

Make your HVAC system smart, for just $49 a year.

5. Schedule an energy audit

Fifth, schedule an energy audit. It’s the right choice if your home is drafty, utility bills are too high, or you’re experiencing rooms that are too hot or too cold. The audit identifies areas of energy loss, possible solutions, and rebates. It increases your comfort and lowers your utility costs. Minnick’s customers see savings quickly when making the identified energy-efficient improvements.

BGE and Pepco customers qualify for a special energy audit rate of just $100 and receive energy-efficient products.

how to lower winter heating bills6. Add insulation

Insulation is a great way to improve the efficiency of your home. An energy audit identifies areas of your home where insulation is needed. It acts as a barrier for the conditioned air inside your home. If your home has no insulation, thin insulation, or damaged insulation, the conditioned air can easily escape. Make sure that you thoroughly insulate your attic, ducts, and exterior walls.

7. Weather-strip and caulk your windows and doors

If you get an energy audit, some of the home improvements may be easy to install yourself. A homeowner can easily weather-strip and caulk. They don’t cost much, but it takes time especially if your home has many windows including some that are out of arm’s reach.

During the winter, you likely notice cold air seeping into your home around your windows and doors. It’s one of the most common household drafts. The small cracks around windows and doors let air slip into your home, forcing your air conditioner or furnace to work harder to keep the room at a comfortable temperature.

Caulking and weather-stripping are low-cost DIY ways to make you more comfortable. Caulk inside and outside your window casing. It prevents drafts and keeps moisture away, protecting the paint and wood.

For caulking, you’ll need a tube of caulk, a utility knife, a scraper or putty knife, a caulk gun, a wire hanger or nail and a small plastic spoon (to flatten and smooth the caulk).

If you don’t want to caulk or weather-strip, consider a door snake. It’s a simple and effective way to keep drafts from entering your home.

If you have more money in your budget, consider storm doors. They’re an effective way to prevent energy loss but cost more.

8. Use heavier curtains

Curtains and blinds make a difference in the temperature of your home. Heavy curtains keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Richer tones, like heavy linen or velvet, add extra insulation in the winter months. They also fit in with the season.

Thermal blinds take your efforts to keep your home warm one step further, but they’ll cost you more money. They prevent warm air from escaping and keep cold air out of your home, which reduces energy loss.

Cellular shades or honeycomb blinds also insulate rooms. They have empty pockets of air that run parallel to the seams. As the layers of fabric meet at the seams, the pockets of air created when the shade is down, insulate the room.

If you use cellular shades, add a layered look with curtains. Hang curtains on top, above the cellular shades. It will add an elegant look while keeping your room warmer.

Then, take advantage of the sun. Open curtains on south-facing windows when the sun is burning brightest in the afternoon. Then, close them at night.

9. Install barn doors or doorway curtains

If you have glass doors in your house, use doorway curtains to provide extra insulation. Get a floor-length curtain in a color that matches your interior décor. Then, pull it to the side if you need to get into the room or want to change up the look. Consider it a decorative accent as well as a way to keep you comfortable.

Barn doors are trendy, but also functional. Shops and agricultural buildings use them for warmth. If you’re open to the idea, install sliding barn doors to increase the comfort of rooms with sliding glass doors.

10. Add heavy-duty plastic to your windows

If you don’t want to add barn doors or heavy curtains, a heavy-duty plastic sheet or film will reduce the draft you feel from windows. The secret is to seal the plastic tightly to the frame, according to the Department of Energy.

How a programmable thermostat saves you money11. Install a programmable thermostat

Programmable thermostats allow you to save money without compromising your comfort. Using the thermostat’s program, set the temperature lower when you don’t need it like while you’re at work or sleeping.

You’ll save 10-percent on your utility bill by turning down your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day.

12. Close fireplace damper

Your home’s fireplace should have a tight-fitting damper that you can close when it’s not in use. When you keep it open, it’s like having a window open during the winter, according to the Department of Energy.

If you don’t use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.

13. Add a water blanket

Check your water heater’s surface temperature. If it’s hot to touch, it’s wasting power. An insulating blanket or jacket increases its energy efficiency. If you have a gas water heater, check the restrictions of using a blanket.

With Minnick’s BGE and Pepco energy audits, a water heater blanket is one of the energy-efficient products included with the home performance test.

14. Lower water heater temperature

Do you remember the last time you checked the temperature of your water heater? It’s one of the best ways to lower your winter heating costs. Some manufacturers set the temperature to 140-degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Department of Energy. That can lead to problems including mineral buildup, corrosion, and a safety hazard. Maryland homeowners only need the water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

With the temperature set to 140-degrees, you’ll waste up to $400 a year.

Every home is different, so it may not be as easy as turning down the temperature gauge to 120-degrees. Here are step by step instructions to find the right temperature for your home comfort.

15. Seal air leaks

Finally, seal air leaks. Over time, air leaks develop. While we most commonly think of air leaks around windows and doors, there are other areas of your home that are prone to these. An energy audit is the most comprehensive way to find air leaks, but you can also use the DIY method.

If you’re sealing air leaks, check all components of your home. Common air leak sources include electrical outlets, switch plates, door and window frames, baseboards, fireplace damper, attic hatches, vents and fans, and cable TV and phone lines.

With an energy audit, the technician uses a blower door to identify the air leaks.

The Department of Energy suggests performing the DIY test on a cool and very windy day. After turning off combustion appliances and shutting doors, turn on all exhaust fans like your clothes dryer, bathroom fan, window fan, and stove vent. Then light an incense stick. When the smoke moves, it’s a sign of a draft. You can also feel for leaks with your hand.

Of course, a professional energy auditor offers a more precise evaluation of your home.

Once you find the air leaks, seal them. There are a variety of ways to achieve air sealing, depending on what’s causing the leaks.

Home comfort

While 15 home improvements may not be possible, taking some of these steps will go a long way toward improving your comfort. Patching one or two problems helps, but Minnick’s believes a whole-home approach is the best way to solve your heating and cooling concerns while lowering your monthly utility bills.

Minnick’s is a pioneer in Whole-Home Comfort. While most homeowners focus on the HVAC system, we believe your entire home is one system. It won’t perform as efficiently as possible if your home has performance problems, even if you have the best heating and cooling system. Insulation, ductwork, and drafts all contribute to your home’s energy efficiency. Let us know how we can help.