The 5 Best Tips for a Cheaper Winter

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The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder – many states are seeing their first freeze of the season. Is it time to turn up the heat?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, over half of the average power bill is from heating: 18 percent is for heating water, and 45 percent goes to keeping the whole home warm. Finding ways to preserve that heat can mean significant savings for the upcoming season.

Fortunately, most of the tricks to do it aren’t hard or expensive. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson talks to a nervous but nice guy from Home Depot about getting the biggest bang for your buck in winter energy savings. Check it out, and then read on for details.

As Stacy said, you can do some of this stuff this weekend and it will probably pay for itself before winter’s out. Here are the best bang-for-your-buck projects to get started on…

  1. Seal leaks. Getting rid of that chilly draft will feel good and save money. EnergyStar.gov figures you can save 10 percent of your annual energy bill with proper sealing and insulation (up next). Caulk is a cheap fix, and there are several easy ways to identify leaks. There’s the one Stacy mentioned: Use a candle and watch for the flicker. Another is to grab a flashlight and a helping hand tonight. Light will shine through from the other side of cracks leaking air. You can also test doors and windows with a simple sheet of paper – shut them over the paper and try to pull it free. If it comes out without tearing, you’ve got a leak. Check high and low: attics, basements, foundations, windows, doors, and anywhere different building materials meet or where pipes enter and exit.
  2. Add more insulation. As you heard in the video, this process can run $500 for an average-sized home. But it only takes a few hours, and will save year-round. Adding insulation to walls can be tricky and expensive, but the attic is usually easy to get to and makes a big difference. EnergyStar.gov suggests how you can tell whether you need to add insulation at a glance: If the insulation isn’t level with or above the floor beams, get more. For step-by-step instructions and safety info, check out this insulation guide from the Department of Energy.
  3. Air filters. The cheapest fix on the list is not the least important – air filters should be changed at least every three months. A dirty air filter is wasting energy by blocking air flow. It can also lead to costly repairs for your furnace, so don’t overlook this simple $3 job.
  4. Programmable thermostat. Being able to schedule temperature adjustments for when you’re asleep or out of the house is an easy way to save money. EnergySavers.gov says you can save 10 to 15 percent on your annual heating and cooling costs by turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours. (The savings are greater in milder climates.) They also debunk an old myth: “A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings.” It doesn’t work that way, so don’t be afraid to turn it down. And putting on an extra layer of clothes will save more money than turning it back up.
  5. Water heater. A jacket to insulate your water heater can cost $25, but cuts water heating costs up to 9 percent. As the video mentioned, it only takes half an hour: Here are instructions. EnergySavers.gov also suggests setting the temperature to 120 degrees, noting that each 10-degree drop is worth 3 to 5 percent of energy costs.

Some of the bigger energy-saving investments may be worth your while too. As we mentioned in 4 Reasons to Start Thinking Taxes Now, 10 percent of qualifying expenses (up to $500) purchased this year can be claimed as a tax credit. Also check out 13 Cool Tips for Lower Energy Bills.

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