Keep energy costs down this winter

The change of seasons brings cooler temperatures this time of year and also a few added expenses as people try to keep warm. Thankfully, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported this week that we can expect average heating costs to be lower this year than last due to lower fuel costs and a milder winter. The EIA states that they expect “household bills for space-heating fuels will be 8 percent lower than a year ago, with the average household spending $960 in the October through March winter heating season, a decrease of $84 from last winter.”

While a decrease in fuel costs is good news, we still need to be prepared for a change in our monthly budgets. A 50 percent increase in energy costs during the colder months is not uncommon, depending on how cold it actually gets. The good news is that, with a few simple steps, you can bring those costs into a more manageable range.

The biggest cost increase, naturally, is all the energy it takes to keep your home warm. These costs can be affected by numerous factors, including the quality of insulation, the size of the home, and the availability of direct sunlight on the outside of the home. Most utility companies will send an energy expert to your home for an energy check, usually at no cost to you. They look for the little nooks and crannies where your energy dollars may be escaping without your realizing it, and make recommendations for fixing the problems they find.

Probably the most important thing you can do yourself is to set the thermostat at 70 degrees or lower at night and between 56 and 60 degrees during the day. Every degree you lower the thermostat reduces your heating costs by three percent or more. Also, dress appropriately for the weather, even indoors. In other words, if you plan to reduce the temperature on the thermostat by five degrees, it would be a good idea to wear a sweater at home instead of a t-shirt.

Run your hand around the outer edges of doors and windows. If you feel a draft, there’s a good chance that you’re wasting money through that seal because the window or door is not air tight. It only costs a few dollars and a trip to the hardware store to seal those leaks and it’s a project that pays for itself quickly. Heat also seeps out of your water heater. For under $30, you can buy an insulated cover for the unit and install it yourself. Again, it pays for itself very quickly. Replace the filters in your heating units regularly. Clogged filters break down the efficiency of the heating unit, which means it takes more energy to keep your home warm. Keep traffic in and out of the house to a minimum. The more you open the doors, the more heat escapes into the cold air outside. And because it gets dark earlier, it’s more important than ever to practice good energy conservation and turn the lights off when you leave the room.

Another way people save on energy costs is to take advantage of what the cold air has to offer. For example, have you ever noticed that people do more baking in the winter than in the summer? After all, who wants to be in a hot kitchen in the middle of July? So this winter, if you enjoy baking, make extras and freeze them for next summer.

You might also consider donating to an organization that helps low-income to afford their home energy expenses. To locate a local organization, visit www.LiveUnited.org.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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