Winter time in Oklahoma doesn’t always follow the calendar. Our coldest days are generally early January but winter-like weather may start in November and continue into early March. Those cold, dreary days can mean an increase in our household energy consumption as we attempt to stay warm and dry. Whether bracing for the cold wind or the falling temperatures, we don’t have to bust our household budgets to stay warm. Finding a few ways to reduce our energy consumption can help minimize the potential increase in heating costs.
Following are some tips to ease the impact on your family’s budget during the winter months.
Set the thermostat as low as is comfortable and leave it. Unless you plan to be away from home for an extended time, most energy specialists recommend leaving the thermostat set around the clock to maintain a constant temperature. Changing the thermostat setting on extremely cold or hot days may actually increase your energy consumption and reduce the life of your unit.
Monitor the thermostat setting. It’s cheaper to put on a sweater than to push up the temperature. Setting the thermostat to 68° is generally recommended and can make a big difference in energy costs. It’s estimated that heating costs increase by 3-5 percent for each degree above 68.
Close shades or drapes after the sun goes down to reduce heat loss through your windows. Consider using insulated curtains to help keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely. In just one hour these fans can pull out a house full of warmed or cooled air, so turn them off as soon as they’ve done the job. On the other hand, ceiling fans can help circulate the air throughout the house and reduce your overall energy costs.
Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed. Dirty filters make heating and cooling systems work harder.
When not in use, keep the fireplace damper closed. An open damper is equivalent to keeping a 48” window open during the winter because warm air goes up the chimney. If you use artificial logs and need to keep the damper open, install tempered glass doors over the front.
Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, hold a lit incense stick next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes and outlets, plumbing fixtures, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other locations where there could be an air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you’ve located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping. (Note: ribbon may be used instead of incense.)
Install storm windows. Storm windows can reduce heat loss through your windows by 25 to 50 percent. The windows should have weather stripping at all moveable joints, be made of strong, durable materials, and have interlocking or overlapping joints. Energy efficient storm windows save even more energy.
Plant trees and shrubs for year-round benefits. Deciduous trees that lose their leaves provide shade in summer and let the sun warm your home during winter. Evergreens on the north side offer a windbreak, but avoid planting them near power lines.
Have a licensed heating and air conditioning contractor check units to ensure they are in good working order. If necessary, replace the unit with a newer, more efficient model.
Shut off heating in unused rooms if the house has zoned units. However, be careful about closing doors and vents in homes with only one central forced heating unit. Doors need to be open for the return air system to work properly.
Check computer “sleep” features. Most computers and monitors today will “go to sleep” when not in use. You can reduce the time it stays awake when you’re away from your machine. Most experts recommend setting the sleep feature around 5-10 minutes, and turning it off overnight to reduce energy consumption.
Choose Energy Star® products. Whether replacing light bulbs or buying new appliances, using those with the Energy Star endorsement should increase your energy savings. For example, compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of incandescent bulbs consumes about 75 percent less energy; a new Energy Star® refrigerator saves about 20 percent over one that is not, and an Energy Star® washer uses almost 50 percent less energy than a standard model.
Sue Lynn Sasser, PhD, is a professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma.