Reducing Your Heating Bills in the Winter

How can you lower your heating bills this winter? Aside from doing the obvious things like insulating your windows, installing a separate wood stove, and maintaining your furnace, you should also keep in mind that your house itself may have one or several sources of heat loss and air leakage.

Where could these sources of heat loss be? Well, if you home has folding attic stairs, a clothes dryer, or a fireplace, you could potentially have a source of heat and air leakage in your home. These often overlooked sources of heat loss result in drafts, wasted energy, and higher heating bills for you. How can you stop this from happening? Below are some quick and inexpensive tips for sealing and/or insulating these sources of heat loss.

Folding Attic Stairs:

When one considers just what is done to install folding attic stairs, is it any wonder that this becomes one of the greatest sources of heat loss? Most attic stairs require the creation of a 10-foot square hole, which in effect removes not only a large piece of the ceiling but also its protective insulation. Then, this hole is covered by a flimsy piece of bare plywood!

Most attics are ventilated directly to the outside, which explains why they are usually very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. It’s as if you have the great outdoors just beyond your ceiling. So, if you have just a thin (usually irregular) piece of plywood separating you from these outdoors, you can understand how this would lead to heat loss in the winter, especially since hot air rises. Sometimes, and especially in older homes where the plywood has warped over the years, you may even see a gap around the door’s perimeter. This gap adds up to a rather large opening to the outside, leading to heat loss and higher gas bills.

What can you do to stop this heat loss? One low-cost solution is to purchase an attic stair cover at a store like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Menards. The attic stair cover provides a seal over the gaps in the door, reducing air leakage. New insulation may be added over this cover in order to restore the insulation that was initially removed from the ceiling.


Two out of every three homes in Canada and the USA are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. While quite cozy and “warm”, these fireplaces have one serious flaw: they are actually sources of heat loss!

How can this be? Try standing next to a non-lit fireplace sometime and putting a small scrap of paper between you and the fireplace. You will notice that the scrap of paper is drawn into the fireplace. The same will occur even when the fireplace is lit. That is why no one worries about smoke entering the house when a fireplace is lit- because the fireplace actually pulls air in, not out.

If you have your fireplace damper open, and then also have no doors to close or simply no doors, then you may be paying up to 30% extra in your heating bills due to the energy loss resulting from your fireplace. That calculates to about $500 extra per winter for a poorly insulated fireplace- amazing!

What can you do to make your fireplace better? One solution is to always have your damper closed when you are not using your fireplace. Also, glass or metal doors can help stop the suction of air to the outside. Another handy item you can purchase is a fireplace draft stopper. This stopper is like an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, drastically reducing air leaks around it. You remove this pillow when the fireplace is in use and reinsert it afterwards.

Clothes Dryers:

Most people would not suspect their clothes dryer to be a source of heat loss; however, consider that the clothes dryer is connected to the outdoors by a simple air duct. In the winter, the cold air leaks in through this duct. Conversely, warm air leaks right out.

Most clothes dryers have a small metal sheet flap inserted into the air duct to prevent air exchange. However, a small uninsulated flap is not going to prevent air leaks. Furthermore, any trapped lint can make air leakage worse by causing the flap to get stuck in the open position. Thus, dryer vents can cause a year-round problem of energy loss!

One way to solve this problem is to invest in a simple dryer vent seal. Such a seal not only reduces air exchange but also keeps out possible insects and even rodents. In this way, the dryer vent is kept closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is being used, the vent seal’s floating shuttle rises and allows air, lint, and moisture to exit the vent.

By taking these simple and inexpensive steps, you will drastically reduce your heating (and even cooling) bills, saving energy in the process.

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