Ed Note: If you were counting on paying some utility bills with your tax refund, the IRS e-file delay may have thrown you a curve ball. But in these chilly winter months, a few small (or a couple big) changes can help keep those heating bills under control so you can stay within your budget, refund or not. We turned to Northern Cheapskate’s Christina Brown for her best tips.
When you live in northern Minnesota, one thing is certain: the winters are long and cold. I’ve learned that the long heating season can be a real budget-buster if you don’t develop some strategies for handling the cold weather.
There are many ways you can trim your heating bill, but some will be more of an investment than others. Start by tackling free or low-cost ways to reduce your bill, and then save up (or use your income tax refund) to pay for larger home energy improvements.
Free or low-cost ways to save on heating
Turn the thermostat down. This is the easiest (and most obvious) way to save money on your heating bill. Just turning down the thermostat a few degrees can shave 10 percent off your heating bill. Put on a sweater and slippers, do some baking, exercise or invite some warm-blooded friends over. You won’t notice the slight difference in temperature, but you will notice a significant savings.
Weatherproof your home. Check for air leaks throughout your house and seal them up. A few tubes of caulk and some weather stripping don’t cost a lot, but they can reap big savings on your heating bill. If you’re in an old house with old windows, you can cover them with special plastic wrap to keep warm air from escaping.
Make the most of your window treatments. Open your curtains or blinds as soon as the sun is up so that you can soak up the sun’s free heat all day long. Then make sure to close those same curtains at dusk so that it traps the heat in your house.
Change directions (with your ceiling fan). By switching the direction your ceiling fan rotates, you can circulate the hot air that rises up to the ceiling back down to your living space.
Change your air filters. Make sure your furnace has clean filters every month. Dirty furnace filters force a furnace to work harder and longer, which will cost you more money and shorten the life of your furnace.
Pay attention to the zones. If you have a house with different thermostats for different zones of your home, consider turning down the thermostat in places you seldom use. Keep your lower level a little warmer than the upstairs and take advantage of rising heat.
Consider budget billing. Many utility companies offer budget billing, which allows you to pay the same amount on your utility bill all year round. Budget billing can be a great way to avoid high heating bills.
Moderate investments to help you save on heating
Consider hiring someone to do an energy audit. Look for reputable organizations that specialize in energy audits. You’ll learn a lot about your home and your energy consumption.
Have your furnace inspected regularly. It will cost a little bit of money each year to do this, but you’ll avoid major problems and big bills by doing it.
Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat automatically turns the heat down when you’re away from home or at night when you’re sleeping. Set it and see the savings.
Major money moves to save on heating
Add insulation to your home. Keep more of the heat in by adding more insulation to your home. This is a relatively simple project that can trim your heating bill.
Replace old doors and windows. Old doors and windows can cause you to lose a lot of heat. Consider replacing them with more energy efficient options.
Replace your furnace. If your furnace is more than 10 years old, you may want to consider replacing it with a newer Energy Star model. Many utility companies even offer rebates for these types of home energy improvements.
These simple tricks can help you save on your heating bill, but it’s not the only way to afford the heating season. Pay attention to other areas of your energy usage. If you’re able to cut electricity costs or reduce water usage, that savings can be applied to your heat bill.
What are some ways you save on your energy bills?