Living Green-Getting Ready for Winter on a Budget

Save Money this Winter

There have been many articles written about winterizing your home to make it more comfortable and to save money. But many tips are worth repeating. One of the ways to leave a smaller impact on the environment is to reduce our consumption and therefore waste. This can mean cost savings to you. It's a win, win situation. So, here are some of my tips to get a jumpstart on the cold season and save a few dollars too.

1. Call your local power company and see if an energy audit is available. They will come out and inspect your home for energy/heat loss and give you a list of things to improve which will make your home less drafty and cost less to heat. Go through the list and decide which projects are do-it-yourself and which you will want to hire out. Go to for a do-it-yourself energy audit. This is a great resource for all sorts of energy issues.

2. Windows and Doors. A huge loss of heat comes from inadequate windows and doors. Did you know the government is giving an up to $1500 tax break for certain home upgrades this year? If you have been putting off replacing exterior doors and windows, this year might be the year! Buy the best windows and doors you can afford. I think sometimes you are paying for a brand name, and not necessarily a higher quality product. Take some time to shop around and choose carefully. If you are very handy, windows aren't THAT difficult to replace. It helps if you have a helper who has done it before. When in doubt, call a professional. I won't give advice on how to install windows, just make sure if you are going to invest in new windows that they are installed correctly, or they won't be any better than the old ones.

Make sure the windows are caulked adequately around the window trim so air can't leak in or out. If replacing the windows is out of the question this year, you can install thermal window curtains that will keep out a lot of the cold. Put draft barriers along the bottom of exterior doors that leak air. I have a basement door that is wooden and cold in the winter. I installed both a heavy curtain over the whole door (we don't use this door in the winter) and a draft blocker along the bottom I made myself out of scrap fabric and leftover kitty litter, of all things. It makes the barrier heavy and absorbs odors at the same time! It has made a HUGE difference in the temperature in the winter.

3. Insulation. This my sound obvious, but do you really know if your attic and wall insulation is adequate? I know insulation isn't as sexy as a flat screen tv with surround-sound, but if you have some money saved up, now might be a good time to assess your insulation needs. My husband and I helped to remodel my mother's kitchen a few years back. When we removed the old walls, we discovered there was NO wall insulation in her circa 1900 home and we could see daylight through the wall! I'm thinking this was why her energy bill was out of this world every month! Some homes can not be insulated without major demolition, but check out your attic. Is the insulation packed down and no longer fluffy? Is it missing in spots? There should be no air gaps. Going through the hassle of beefing up on your insulation will make your home warmer, more comfortable and your furnace won't work nearly as hard. Which leads me to:

4. Your furnace. How often do you change your furnace filter? Especially in older homes which are terribly dusty, the filter should be changed each month. It's hard to remember to go down to the basement to do this each month. I find it handy to buy a year's worth of furnace filters. Write the month in permanent marker on the top of each one and write a reminder on your calender or program it into your phone. Maybe link it to when you pay the mortgage. It will make your furnace run more efficiently and make your home less dusty.

If it has been a long time since your furnace has been inspected, remember that Carbon Monoxide is odorless and deadly. It is worth paying someone to inspect the furnace every year. My aforementioned mother's house had a crack in her old furnace that my husband just happened to notice when he was changing the filter for her. It would have been only a matter of time before my parents would have been poisoned! They put in a new, energy efficient furnace that was quieter and cleaner.

5. If your home is less drafty, you can then turn down the thermostat. Try to keep it at 68 or less. It's a difficult habit to change if you are used to wearing t-shirts in a 72 degree home all winter. Buy good slippers and wear a sweater! Buy a programmable thermostat that can turn down your thermostat when nobody's home. It will turn on the furnace a hour before you get home so you won't even notice the house was 60 degrees all day. My husband is an electrician and according to him, this only works on forced-air furnaces. I still don't understand why it won't work on our hot-water boiler heat, but that's another issue. Put extra blankets on the bed and turn the heat down at night.

6. If you live alone or use just one room most of the time, you can turn your thermostat down a lot and buy a heater that just heats the room you are in. There are new models that are pricey, but they don't heat the air. They heat the objects in the room and are very comfortable, I hear. This won't work for me, as there are five of us using multiple rooms, but my mother has one and says it works great for her purposes. She piles extra blankets on the bed (or uses an electric blanket) and stays pretty much in one room the rest of the time.

7. Air Conditioner. The obvious thing to do with a window air conditioner is to remove it in the winter time. If this is not an option for you, at least wrap it really well in a blanket and put a cover over that to repel water. Since I am a reuse freak (, I made a cover out of dog food bags which are waterproof, strong and best of all, free! I cut out the pieces and sewed to make a big air-conditioner-shaped bag that can be bungeed on.

8. Use the garage entry instead of the front or back door in the winter time. You will be letting in less wind. Try to convince your children to not keep the door open any longer than they need to so you aren't heating the whole neighborhood! I have no ideas on how to do that...

9. Bake cookies!! Using the oven in the summer is insane if you are trying to air-condition the house, but in the winter time it can serve double duty to help heat the kitchen.  I try to bake multiple meals and freeze some (ie. it takes the same amount of energy to bake four lasagnas as one, so why not make extra and freeze for another day?) and when I'm done, I keep the oven door open a bit so the heat I've produced isn't trapped in the oven, but is released to help heat the kitchen. It's a little thing, but little things add up.

10. If you have a pet door, you are losing energy every time they use it, or whenever the wind blows it open.  Put your pet door in a wall instead of a door and build a dog house with two doors, one of which goes over the house pet door.  It will conceal your pet door and be more secure and it will block some of the cold and draft every time they use it.

I hope these tips are helpful. I know everyone is busy with life and we sometimes don't have time to do anything extra. But, if you can squeeze out a tiny bit of time this fall to take stock of your energy usage and do one or two things to improve the heating efficiency of your home, you will have saved a bit of money and used less fuel, thereby making it better for everyone.

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