How to Save Money on Heating Bills
By Steve Gillman
Turning down the thermostat is probably the most common tip
on how to spend less on heating bills. It may be a good idea,
and it is true that you can put on a sweater to stay comfortable.
But some people feel the cold more than others, right? And among
all the ways we can save money, should giving up our physical
comfort at home be one of the first things we try?
The expensive options suggested for saving money on heating
bills include adding insulation to your home, buying solar panels
to reduce your furnace use, and upgrading your heating system
to a high-efficiency unit. Those ideas may work as well, but
you may not have the money to invest. Also, the arguments for
these as money-saving plans sometimes don't make sense.
As an example let's suppose you spend $20,000 to put a solar
heating system on your home. It saves you half of your annual
$1,200 heating cost, or $600. Now suppose you have to finance
the system. The interest alone could be more than the $50 monthly
savings, so you may not ever recoup your costs, let alone save
You have to do the math and consider the real costs, including
the interest paid if financed, or the interest lost if paid from
money you have in the bank. I recently read on a solar advocacy
website that a solar hot water system costs "only"
$5,000 and could save 50% of the costs of running my regular
hot water heater (which is still needed due to cloudy days).
Now, our hot water probably costs about $240 annually, so we
would save just $120 each year. We can do better than that leaving
the money in the 3% account we have at our online bank! The $150
we would make annually in interest pays the extra $120 and leaves
us an additional $30 versus having the solar water heater.
Insulation can be more cost-effective if you are deficient
in insulation right now. There are other major upgrades that
may pay off too. On the other hand, what if you haven't got the
money for the big fixes and you like your home to be a warm place
to live? Then you need to apply some of the following ways to
save money on heating bills without spending a fortune.
- Close of any air leaks. Look for drafty areas, find the
air leaks and seal them up with caulk or weather stripping. Closely
check around windows and other possible openings. Three dollars
of caulk might be sufficient for any and all leaks you find,
and weather stripping around leaky doors is cheap as well.
- Check each room and adjust the registers as necessary. In
most forced-air systems these can be opened or closed somewhat,
so if you have rooms where you don't spend much time, close the
vents off partly to reduce the hot air going there. It costs
nothing to do this.
- Adjust drapes, blinds and curtains. If you open curtains
when the sun is shining you'll notice the heating effect pretty
quickly. You can also get in the habit of closing them once they
are in the shade or each night after the sun sets.
- Install an electronic thermostat with a timer. A decent
electronic thermostat can cost $100 or more, but they are still
one of the cheaper ways to cut your heating bill by 5% or more.
The timer can be set to turn the heat down at night when you
are cozy in bed, to turn it up thirty minutes before you get
up, and to turn it down during times when no one is home, like
when you are at work
- Manually adjust the thermostat. If you want to save the
cost you can do the same thing the automatic thermostat does
by adjusting the heat control whenever you go to sleep or leave
the house for a while. One disadvantage: you'll have to put up
with the cold for a few minutes after you wake up or get home.
It is a no-cost way to save money on heating though.
The easiest quickest way to spend less on heating bills is
still the one first mentioned: turn down the heat permanently.
If you do this, wearing a sweater isn't the only thing you can
do to compensate. Floors sometimes chill us more than the air,
so wear warm slippers or thick socks. A cup of hot tea can warm
you up for an hour. Lounging in the sunniest chair is another
trick. Or... find another way to save $20 per month and turn
that heat back up to where it is comfortable.