Sometimes it seems we just can't tighten our belts to save money any more than we already do. We cut out unnecessary bills as we can, but we still have those pesky utility bills every month -- ouch. We can, however, concentrate on lowering the amount we owe for electricity, heating, water and the lot, and most times it requires only a few simple fixes. Several of these fixes will help year-round and not just during the winter months.
The obvious way to lower your cost and increase heat and energy efficiency in your home is to replace your furnace and hot water heater and all of your appliances with Energy Star-qualified products -- but this may be an expense you are not prepared to take on all at once. Energy Star products are certified to save energy and increase efficiency and may qualify you for tax benefits. There are stopgaps until and if you do replace or update each piece, and many of these fixes are economical and easy do-it-yourself projects.
Lower the thermostat in the cold weather. The Department of Energy says that by "turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours, you can save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill." Set your thermostat to 68 during your family's at-home and awake time, and use sweaters, socks and cozy throws for warmth. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees at night when everyone is cuddled under their bed blankets, and also turn the thermostat down when everybody is out during the day. Programmable thermostats will help to maintain temperatures if your family keeps a set schedule.
Don't pay to heat the whole house if you are not using the whole house. Use only one or two portable heaters where the family congregates, and keep your thermostat lower (60 to 65 degrees). Do not close off registers in the unused rooms, or you may risk damaging your furnace. If you find you need more portable heaters, then you will probably spend more to run those than by heating the whole house. Lower interior temperatures generally experience less heat loss to the outside chill, so there is no need to keep rewarming the house to higher temperatures in the colder weather.
Check your insulation, and block drafts. Because heat rises, the attic tends to be the greatest source of heat loss in the home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends air sealing the attic before installing additional insulation. Check for sources of air leaks in the attic such as open support beams, soffits, recessed lighting, etc. Use plastic garbage bags filled with insulation to fill large open areas, and then cover with regular insulation. Be careful around heat-generating sources such as flue pipes, chimneys and electrical wiring. Check your local building codes for the minimum distance required from combustible materials, and use metal flashing and/or high-temperature silicone caulk in these areas. Use caulk around electrical junction boxes.
Insulate the attic with loose, batt or fiberglass roll insulation. You can lay the new insulation over the old, but there should be no vapor barriers to hold moisture in. Don't roll insulation over vent soffits or electrical boxes. If you are adding a new layer of insulation, lay it perpendicular to the original and cover the joists. The Department of Energy recommends no less than 19 to 22 inches attic insulation. Be sure to use safety glasses, gloves and a dust mask for safety. Use higher rated insulation closer to outer walls where more heat loss occurs.
In your home, cover window glass with heavy gauge plastic sheeting; install precut foam insulators under electrical outlet covers; and add weather-stripping around exterior doorframes, and caulk around window frames to help reduce heat-stealing drafts and air leaks. Insulate both the hot water and cold water pipes -- one to prevent heat loss and the other to prevent burst pipes from the cold. Set your water heater to 120 degrees and wrap it with an insulation blanket (do not cover the thermostat or heating element). Replacing bulbs with energy efficient models and turning lights off when the room is empty will also help to save money.