It seems like every year the price of keeping warm increases; this year saw some peoples heating bills almost double. I started looking for ways to cut the cost of the heating bill without having to wear a parka in the house and wasn’t all that happy with what I found. Sure there were sites that said to cut the temperature down at night and when you aren’t home and to insulate but I wanted more – I wanted my house to be as “air tight” as possible. The first thing to do to keep heating costs down is to look at your windows. If they are old consider having them replaced in the summer and if money is a factor, start with the ones that are in the worst shape. The money pit, my less than affectionate term for my dwelling, is an older structure and all the windows are different sizes. There are thirteen windows, two large bay windows and four doors – all of which were replaced with energy efficient ones to try and keep drafts to a minimum. I hated getting rid of the one bay window because it had a large piece of stained glass at the top of it but it was sucking the heat right out of the room. I managed to salvage the stained glass piece when it was removed and the new window helps to keep the heat in and the cold out.
If replacing windows isn’t an option you can get window and door insulation kits at places like Home Depot. These are extremely easy to set up and will cut down on drafts. Most have a thick or foam double sided tape that gets run around the inside edge of the window frame, a piece of plastic is then placed over the window and pressed into place. Using a hair dryer you heat up the plastic until it shrinks and forms a solid barrier against drafts. These come in a variety of sizes so if you are thinking about getting them, make sure you measure your windows and doors first. If you do this correctly you will still be able to see out the windows clearly however doors will be blocked from use. This can be real hazard in case of a fire so make sure you have something nearby that you can stab into the plastic in case you need to make a speedy exit. I taped a small screwdriver to the side of the door frame in case we ever need to get out of the house quickly, sure it looks a little weird but if there is a fire I won’t have to stand there and karate chop my way through the stuff. Every manufacturer has different reports on how much of a difference it can make by using these kits, some say it can cut down on as much as 75% of the draft.
Even though I had the windows and doors replaced I still used these kits on the windows on the third floor. While the windows were brand new, there was still a draft from the frame. For whatever reason, the people who put in the new windows didn’t tell me that there were some uneven areas around the frame. When I called them and let them know that I was less than happy with their work they did offer to come back “in a couple of weeks” to remedy the situation. That was August … I don’t think their idea of a couple of weeks is the same as mine. Taking matters into my own hands I picked up a couple of cans of expanding foam and shot it into the areas where there were gaps and it did help to cut down on the drafts. Since the top floor is impossible to heat we decided to seal off the windows and use one of the door insulation kits in the hallway so the drafts that were coming down from the lack of insulation were cut off. Of course this meant that if you needed to get to the top floor, you have to cut through the plastic . Luckily I planned ahead and grabbed stuff that I thought we might need. If you live in a larger house and have rooms or floors that aren’t used, consider sealing them off or blocking the heating vents in them. This will redirect more heat to areas that are being used and your furnace won’t be working overtime.
If you are going to seal off a room or a floor, make sure that any pipes you have running through them [remember this is an old house and there are pipes everywhere] are insulated to keep them from freezing. A water pipe breaking might not be something that you will catch right away so be sure to stop by your local hardware store and ask them how to properly insulate pipes and water lines to keep them from freezing. If you do elect to seal off a room or floor, make sure that you inspect the area every so often; for what ever reason a window broke on the top floor of the house a few weeks ago. This didn’t really cause any trouble but it could have if it would have fallen and hurt someone. Birds are also a problem, if they see a place that they can get into to keep out of the cold they will more than likely give it a try. Can you imagine the damage that they could do if they flew into your house and started nesting in a room?
If you have portable oil heaters [self contained units that resemble old fashioned steam radiators] make sure that they are Energy Star products; some people think that they are going to save a lot of money by using one of these – you might save money on your gas bill but your electric bill might go through the roof. On a side note, if you use any type of heater that says “use with adequate ventilation”, think twice about using them in rooms where you have installed plastic insulation kits. You could be overcome with fumes and become extremely sick. Likewise, portable oil heaters should never be used in rooms where children play; they are hot to the touch and could cause severe burns. If you are going to buy one of these, try to get one that has a temperature control on it rather than one with a low, medium and high series of buttons. If you can get one that will shut off when it reaches a certain temperature you can regulate it easier and not have to worry about it running non-stop if you fall asleep. Most manufacturers of these oil heaters do not recommend using them when you are sleeping so please read the information that comes with it before you use it.
If you have a drafts door you can purchase weather stripping to put around the edges of it. I like the kind that can get stapled into the door because the ones with adhesive don’t last very long if you are in and out all the time. The staple version wasn’t an option for the front door because it is metal so I had to go with the adhesive version. Even though it is a new door, you could still feel the cold getting in. I went a step further with this and added a wooden door inside the vestibule so when were are coming in and out with groceries or packages the front door isn’t wide open for five minutes. I am pretty proud to say that I installed the door myself after someone at Home Depot walked me through it. OK, it’s not the best install job but it opens, closes and locks. What I like most about this is that I don’t have to look at the snow boots, shovels, bags of salt and other winter related paraphernalia. There are a few windows on the door but for the most part, everything that is in the small hallway is blocked from view.
If replacing doors and using insulation kits aren’t choices for you, consider a door sweep. These can be slipped onto the bottom of the door and help to block out a lot of draft from outside, doors that lead to a garage or basement. Instead of putting a rolled up rug or towel against the bottom of the door, sink a couple of dollars into a door sweep. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to get in a door when there is a towel bunched up against it on the other side? Having a door sweep almost eliminates that from happening. The biggest things to keep in mind is the amount of space under the door and the width of it; you’ll need to know that so you can get the correct size that will work best for your specific needs. You will still be able to use the door as usual but the drafts that creep in under it will be kept out.
This is one of the biggest debates these days. One side says that lowering the temperature of a furnace at night will save money, the other side says that dipping it too low will cause the furnace to run longer and cost more money to heat up the house. I take it down to 58 degrees at night and keep it at about 64 during the day when we are home. Since the house is old and lacks insulated walls, no matter how long you run the furnace, as soon as it turns off you lose that roasty toasty feeling that you had when it was running. You can thank the builders for that, the stone side absorbs heat in the summer and does nothing to retain heat in the winter. I’m not about to rip out walls and have insulation installed, if I were to entertain that idea I’d be better off ripping the entire house down and starting over.
When we moved in the thermostat was old, one of those round ones that didn’t seem like it was all that accurate. When the new furnace was installed the company offered to put in a digital system that would tie in with the central air unit that was supposed to be installed in the summer. I can control the setting with a touch of a button and see what the average temperature is in the room. They also added a few display panels in other rooms to monitor the temperature but you can’t control the furnace from them. I have no idea what goes into installing one of these but I would assume that it is a safe bet that you should have a qualified professional do the job instead of trying to do it yourself.
You will never see me running around the house in shorts during the winter because there is no way that I could ever get it warm enough that it would be comfortable to do so. Our newspaper ran a story about people taking the temperature of their thermostat down to 55 at night. Three degrees might not seem like that much but it could cause severe problems with the elderly and small children. Even if you sleep in three layers of clothing under several blankets and comforters, you are still being exposed to lower temperatures. If you are going to drop the temperature overnight, consider getting a timer for your thermostat that will increase the heat at a set time so when you get up, you aren’t shivering. Dropping the temperature during the night may save you some money but it isn’t worth getting sick over.
Energy Assistance Programs
LIHEAP Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program
Some people have a real problem taking advantage of energy assistance programs that are offered to lower income families. Look at it this way – your family is number one and keeping them warm during the winter should come before pride. You can apply for energy assistance if you qualify based on a simple table of how many people live in your household and your yearly income. If you do not qualify for this, you can opt to sign up for a budget payment plan that lowers your overall monthly payments and stretches them out. If you are paying $400.00 a month for your heat and get on the budget plan you may end up paying $175.00 a month – but that will be year round so if you are used to tiny bills during the summer please keep in mind that you’ll be paying that fixed amount year round. You can call to have the numbers crunched every year to make sure you aren’t overpaying on the budget plan.
Alternative Heat Sources
As funny as it may sound, candles are a great way to take the chill off a medium or small room. I always stock up on the large pillar candles when I see them on sale. These burn for at least sixty hours [more if you trim the wick] and generate a nice amount of heat if you have several of them lit. You should never, ever leave these lit when you are out of the room or sleeping. Wal-Mart had their left over Christmas candles marked at 50% off so I stocked up on them for under a dollar a piece. Aside from the nice scent that they let off, they do heat up my little office. This room isn’t connected to the furnace and when they put the new one in, I had the option to have a register put in but the cost of it was outrageous. If candles aren’t your thing, try a small space heater or a self contained oil heater that I previously mentioned. If you are cold at night an electric blanket might help keep you cozy but you have to remember, that will jack up your electric bill.
Fireplaces are a wonderful thing to have and use but cleaning them before winter arrives is a necessity. Stock up on wood during the summer months so that it has time to dry out and make sure that you have a safety screen in front of it to prevent accidents. There were several fireplaces in the house but the previous owners ripped them out. If I wanted to I could knock out the sections and have someone come in and rebuild them but that isn’t a project that I want to undertake in the dead of winter. Wood burning stoves are also an option if you have the space for one; these are usually on the small side but you have to have enough space around as well as fire wood and supplies that you need to maintain the stove.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of different ways to trim the cost of staying warm but the easiest one is to wear an extra layer of clothing. You’d be surprised what a pair of wool socks, sweatpants and sweatshirt can do when the temperature drops. I’ll never be one of those people that refuses to turn up the heat when it gets extremely cold outside, to me I’d rather pay the bill than to sit and shiver. Still, I am not going to pay for heat that is going to slip under doorways, out old windows and through cracks. The amount that I paid for the new windows and doors is going to take a while to pay off but in the long run I know that I’ll be ahead. It’s a catch 22 situation most of the time; you have to have heat but you also have to wonder if companies are taking advantage of people by excessively jacking up rates. It’s not too late to weather proof your house and get your heating bills under control. Even if you don’t see any dramatic results this year, you will see them in the future.