Foster Fuels’ Guide to Energy Efficiency Tips for Winter
As the leaves turn and we know that winter is coming, the annual battle against Jack Frost resumes in earnest. This battle is waged on two fronts: our houses and our wallets. Fortunately for us, victory on one front means victory on the other. Finding ways to make your house more energy efficient, and therefore warmer in the winter, will help you realize substantial savings as you pay your energy bills over these next few months.
With that in mind, we have gathered our favorite energy saving tips and listed them below. Whether you live in an apartment, townhouse or detached home, you can use some of these tips to help cut down your heating costs.
These tips also cover the range from five-minute fixes to weekend projects. Naturally, the more time you spend and the more of these tips you implement, the greater your savings will be this winter. In some cases these home energy efficiency tips will help you save money year round.
Keep Your HVAC Filter Clean
This is probably the easiest task, and yet it is probably the most overlooked. If you live in a home where you have access to your HVAC system, you should change your HVAC filter monthly. If you have opted to buy a “permanent” electrostatic filter, you should clean it monthly.
A dirty filter creates a blockage in the airflow of your HVAC system. This makes it harder to push out the warm air to the vents in your house, which means your system is working harder to heat your home. This leads to greater energy consumption, which means higher heating bills.
Changing the filter takes one minute, so the hard part is remembering to buy the replacement filters. If you’re forgetful, buy them in bulk and store them in the furnace room. No matter how busy your schedule is, you can find one single minute every month for this task.
Thanks to improvements in manufacturing processes and a growing acceptance in the consumer market, prices for LED bulbs are falling fast. LED bulbs are also taking down all the excuses you can conjure up for buying ancient incandescent light bulbs. There is no reason not to install energy efficient lighting in your home.
LED bulbs are 75-80% more efficient than incandescents, and last over twice as long as CFLs. This statistic has been mentioned frequently in the LED vs. incandescent debate, but let’s frame it in simple language: Incandescent light bulbs only convert about 5-10% of the electricity they draw into light. The rest is converted into heat, which isn’t particularly useful (at least for lighting purposes) and means you’re paying for 100% of the electricity usage but only getting 10% of your money’s worth.
Exact figures are hard to pin down, but LED lights are generally advertised as being closer to 90% efficient, and the technology is improving every day. And with their long life spans, you could raise your kids with another curious artifact of modern life: not having to change out light bulbs.
One word of caution, though: buying LED light bulbs basically requires you to throw out everything you knew about buying incandescent bulbs. Those rules no longer apply in the LED world.
Open Curtains During the Day, Close Them at Night
This is a simple piece of advice, and at first blush it might be hard to follow. If I have drafty windows, why would I want to open my curtains?
The reason is simple: sunlight is an excellent heat source, and it’s absolutely free. During the daytime, whatever heat you lose through your window panes will be more than offset by the increase in temperature from the sun’s energy.
If you’re concerned about heat loss through your windows, hopefully you have some south-facing windows. In the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing windows let in the only direct sunlight we get during the winter.
At night, close the curtains and keep the heat in the room where you need it.
Check for Leaks Around Doors and Windows
Doors and windows are the most common offenders for heat loss in the wintertime. Getting a better seal on your doors and windows can range from a weekend project to a full-on renovation, depending on your resources. Use a stick of incense or an infrared thermometer to check the areas around doors, windows and electrical outlets to see where the air might be escaping.
Once you have identified leaks, a bead of caulk on the inside frame or along the outside edges is a good place to start. If that won’t cut it, or if you were saving up to replace the windows anyway, make sure you buy energy-efficient, double-pane windows installed by a professional contractor.
Up the Insulation in Your Attic
For houses that have an attic or crawlspace, inadequate insulation is the largest source of heat loss. Heat rises, and without proper insulation to keep that heat down in the house, it will simply escape through your attic and roof.
There is a point of diminishing returns for the amount of insulation in your attic, but that amount is higher than you would expect. The EPA recommends 10-14” of insulation in the attic, which is well above the height of the joists. If you think you might need more and you can afford it, aim for an R-Value of 38.
Install Draft Blockers
If you’re having trouble sealing up the space under your exterior doors, or if you aren’t in a position to make changes to your doors, installing door sweeps or draft blockers is a simple, inexpensive way to deal with a drafty door.
Close the Flue on Your Fireplace
This seems like simple advice, and yet it can be tricky. If you aren’t using your fireplace, the flue should be closed. Otherwise, it is no different than leaving a window open in your house in the middle of the winter. The warm air is going to flow right into your fireplace and right up the chimney.
If you’re letting your fire die down before you go to bed, it can be tempting to leave the flue open to avoid any buildup of carbon monoxide in your house. However, instead of letting the fire die down naturally, grab some water and put it out. Wait a few minutes, and then close the flue before going to bed.
Service Your Appliances
Although servicing your appliances may not be a direct correlation to energy efficiency, it will extend the life of your appliance and save money in the long run.
It is recommended to service your appliances once every year checking for any leaks, cleaning, and ensuring the safety of you and your family.
With servicing being every year, it can be difficult to remember the importance of maintenance. The Preferred Customer Program provides reminders leading up to your one year mark. When on this program you will receive a gas system check including a pressure test, leak test, and inspection of gas line and propane tank. A 15% discount is also added on all parts used for general service work or any additional work requested by the customer.
Use Your Fans
We generally think of ceiling fans as a way to keep us cool in the summer, but reversing the direction of your fan can help to keep your room more comfortable in the winter, too. When the fan blades are reversed, cool air is drawn up in the center of the room, and the warmer air that naturally rises toward your ceiling is gently redistributed down the walls.
Manage your Thermostat
If you have the ability and the resources to do so, installing a programmable thermostat can help save on heating costs simply by making sure you aren’t heating your house to the same temperature 24 hours a day. Lowering the temperature while you are at work during the day and at night when you are asleep under the covers can cut down on the amount of time your system runs at peak energy usage.
New smart thermostats are capable of learning your routines and creating a custom program. Some are even Wi-Fi capable, so you can adjust your thermostat from anywhere.
If you live in a rental situation and don’t have the ability to replace your thermostat, turning it down a couple degrees can contribute to energy savings. The difference in your comfort level between 70 degrees and 68 degrees is not nearly as large as the difference in energy required for your home’s heating system to grab those two extra degrees. Heating a large space two degrees takes a large amount of energy.
Wear More Clothes
Dropping your thermostat a couple degrees will require compensation elsewhere to keep you comfortable. While it may sound unnecessarily simplistic, putting on more clothing will help you stay warm, taking some of the stress of that task off your heating system.
If you live in a part of the country that experiences cold winters, it is unreasonable to expect your HVAC to keep your house at a temperature where you can sit around in shorts and a t-shirt. Even if your system is completely capable of fighting the outside temperature, inevitable air leaks and other factors working against it, it would be a waste of money for your HVAC to work extra hard. Blankets, sweatshirts and wearing a few extra layers of clothing are cheap. Energy use on that scale isn’t.
Turn Down the Temperature on Your Water Heater
This may not be directly related to heating your house efficiently, but it is a great energy-saving tip. If your hot water heater is set to 140 degrees, any time you draw hot water you will also be drawing some cold water to get the water down to a tolerable temperature. Six seconds of exposure to 140-degree water will result in a burn, so you can’t use the water coming out of your heater.
Instead of drawing cold water to lower the temperature of your hot water heater, simply turn down its temperature. Your hot water heater won’t have to work as hard, and you’ll save money on your energy bills. You can even look to install an on-demand Propane water heater in order to quickly heat water for your home for less!
Turn up the Temperature of Your Refrigerator
This is another energy-saving tip that isn’t winter-specific. Turning up the temperature of your refrigerator can help save money as well. Don’t turn it up past 40 degrees — the lower end of the food safety “danger zone.”
There isn’t a ton of wiggle room here, but with a cheap thermometer, you can determine if your refrigerator is working harder than it needs to. This is especially worthwhile if you experience a problem with freezing in your main refrigerator compartment. This could be a sign that you’re placing your items too close to the cold air vent, but it’s definitely a sign that your refrigerator is working harder than necessary.
Do your best to keep your refrigerator full, as well. Air is a terrible insulator, so the less air in your fridge, the easier it will maintain an appropriate temperature.
Deep Clean Your House
If you’re looking for a weekend project and don’t mind getting dirty, cleaning a few key components in your house can help them operate at peak energy efficiency. If the rest of the items in this list are home efficiency tips, consider this home efficiency homework.
Vents. Keeping your vents clean can help your HVAC deliver hot and cold air more efficiently. We aren’t talking about reaching every single inch of ductwork in your whole house. Simply removing the vent covers and running the vacuum hose around the accessible portions will be enough. Pay special attention to any air returns that lead back to your HVAC system.
Clothes dryer. This is a slightly bigger job because getting to the ductwork for your clothes dryer might not be possible. If you can do it, cleaning out the connections and pipes leading out from your dryer can help keep it running in tip top shape.
Professionals can perform a thorough cleaning of your system, which is a good idea to avoid the fire hazard that an excessive buildup of dryer lint poses. Consult a professional for a recommendation on the frequency of these cleanings.
Refrigerator. We aren’t advising you to keep the inside of your refrigerator clean, even though that is a good idea for many other reasons. Rather, we suggest pulling the refrigerator out and making sure the coils for the cooling system are clean. These coils rely on the transfer of heat to produce the cold air that keeps your food cold. Dust and dirt can act as insulators, preventing your refrigerator from performing at its best.
Schedule Maintenance for Your HVAC System
A lot of this work can be done yourself, but the average homeowner doesn’t have the tools and expertise of an HVAC technician. About once a year, it’s a good idea to call in the professionals. They can perform the routine internal maintenance that can help your system operate safely and efficiently. This will save you money in the winter and the summer because professionals can service all types of systems.
Consider an Alternative Energy Source
If you have tried everything and you still aren’t seeing the savings you were hoping for, consider replacing your system with an alternative energy system for more energy-efficient heating. Options such as propane can be cheaper to operate than an all-electric HVAC and hot water heater. This isn’t the cheapest option for improving energy efficiency, but long-term, the cost savings will add up for as long as you own the home.
No matter your goals or where you currently stand in terms of energy efficiency in the home, you have plenty of options that can be implemented in little or no time. Why is energy efficiency important? The savings from energy efficiency are motivation enough, but there are plenty of other reasons why energy efficiency is important:
A collective improvement of our carbon footprint
Reduction of our impact on the environment
Decreased maintenance costs around the home
If you want to know more about how to improve energy efficiency in homes and how propane systems can help, sign up for our newsletter, browse our site to learn more about our whole home heating services, and contact us today.