Keeping Cold Winter Air Outside and Heating Bills Low
by Gary Foreman
There are very simple steps you can take to keep your home warm for less this winter. Why not take the time to do some of these things now before the weather turns cold?
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Do you have any hints on making windows a little less cold inside? Would you enclose them with plastic?
And what about other tips for keeping cold winter air outside and heating bills low?
According to the Energy Star Program, air leaks could increase Lori’s heating bill by 15% this winter. So saving some heat is certainly a good thought. Let’s explore some steps Lori can take to protect her home (and her wallet) from winter’s chill.
We’ll start with the idea that Lori is considering. She’s on the right track. Air can be used as an insulator. Storm windows are important because they create an airspace between the two windows. That pocket of air will keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
You can use sheet plastic on the inside of your window to create airspace. It works whether you have storm windows or not. This strategy can reduce heat loss through the window by 25%. You can attach the sheet plastic to screen frames, cardboard or wooden frames, or even simply tape it to the inside of the window opening.
Another option is to have clear plexiglass cut to fit inside your windows. They allow you to see through, look good from the inside and store well during the summer. Still another possibility would be to hang blankets in front of the windows. Naturally, you’ll pull them aside to allow any available sunlight to enter during the day.
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Along with creating an insulator between windows, you’ll want to eliminate cracks and crevasses that allow cold air in. A very small draft of outside air can make a room seem much colder than it is. Your body will react to it’s coldest part. If you feel a draft against your neck, your whole body will feel cold even if it is wrapped in sweaters.
The only good way to find leaks is to check all of the outside walls of your home. Light a candle and slowly move near the outside walls. If the flame flickers or the smoke is blown in one direction, you’ve found a leak.
Pay particular attention around doors, windows and baseboards. And don’t forget under kitchen cabinets. Access holes for pipes can allow cold air to enter. Once you’ve found a leak, you’ll want to plug it with plaster, caulk or weather-stripping. Also, insulate behind your switch plates. Rubber gaskets are available or you can cut Styrofoam from meat trays to do the job.
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, keeping the cold air outside is your best strategy. You can save quite a bit with a few dollars in caulking, weather-stripping and sheet plastic. But, there’s more that you can do without spending a lot to keep warmer for less this winter.
Inspecting the furnace and ducts
Your furnace is a good place to start. Check it to make sure that everything is working properly. Unless you’re handy you might want to have it professionally checked. Not only do you want your furnace to work efficiently, but you also want it to work safely.
Clean your furnace filters and air registers. That can increase your furnace’s efficiency by up to 10%. Naturally you want to set your thermostat for the lowest temperature that will keep you comfortable and close off rooms when they’re not being used. (See How to Prepare Your Furnace for Winter.)
If you have forced air heating, leaking ducts can cut your efficiency by up to 40%. If your ducts leak you don’t lose hot air. Rather cold air is drawn into the ducts when the blower fan is on. That cold air is then delivered to your living area.
Also, if the ducts are in an unheated area (attic or crawlspace), they should be insulated. (See How to Insulate Your Attic for Lower Energy Bills.)
Keeping air moist
In the summer we talk of “air conditioners”. In the winter the condition of our air is equally important. Especially the moisture content. The combination of winter and heaters tends to dry out the air. Additional moisture in the air makes it feel warmer.
There are a number of ways to add water to your air. A humidifier is the easiest. But, if you don’t have one, there are other options.
Bowls of water on your countertop will evaporate. Consider drying your clothes on racks or lines hung inside your house. When you’ve finished baths or showers allow the extra steam to escape into the rest of your home. Use every opportunity to allow water to evaporate into the air. (See Affordably Combat Dry Indoor Winter Air.)
Directing warm air with ceiling fans
Another consideration is to recognize that a room isn’t equally warm in every spot. That means that ceiling fans are useful in the winter, too. (See What’s That Little Switch On My Ceiling Fan? And How Can It Save Me Money?)
Remember that hot air rises. So your ceiling fan can help to gently push it back down where you are. Have children play on the sofa or at a table. That will be warmer than the floor.
If possible, move your furniture so that it’s away from outside doors and windows. No sense sitting where your room will be coldest.
Using space heaters
Consider heating only the spaces where you are. Portable electric space heaters are inexpensive to buy. They start at about $20. (See Choosing a Space Heater: The Best Job for the Least Money.)
Always take proper precautions with heaters. Be careful of fires, fumes, electrical problems and burns. And always use caution when children are present.
Thinking warm thoughts
Believe it or not, your mind can make it feel warmer. Adding some warm colors to a room will make it seem hotter. In the summer you add cool blues and greens. Now is the time for reds, oranges and yellows. Just a few throw pillows could be enough to get your mind thinking ‘hot’.
Finally, spend a little time thinking about heat. For instance, if you turn on your electric blanket an hour before bedtime your bed will be comfy when you climb under the covers. Your body heat will quickly reduce the need for the extra warmth. So turn off the electric blanket when you go to bed. It won’t save you big money, but just thinking about when and how you use heat will help you find other ways to get the most heat for your buck.
Reviewed November 2022
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.
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