There are 2 key factors that disrupt home energy usage and personal habits during the winter months. The first is the colder weather. Improperly managing your home during the winter months may result in devastating consequences, including bursting water pipes, ice dams, and window condensation that causes mildew and sill rot.
While battling the cold tends to consume most of our attention when preparing for Jack Frost, the other factor to consider is that there is less sunlight available to provide natural lighting in your home, leading to more energy usage from electric lighting. Ready your home for winter and lower your energy costs with these 3 simple, inexpensive strategies.
There are many places where homes lose heat. The most significant areas are known collectively as the “Thermal Envelope,” composed of the combined surface of the floor, walls, and roof of your house. While this can make up approximately 50-60% of your heat loss, there is little the average homeowner can do to address this since the insulation of these areas was professionally installed and is mostly hidden.
Still, if you do have access to the attic or a basement and find exposed rafters, it is relatively inexpensive and simple to install fiberglass insulation or an eco-friendly alternative made from wool, hemp, recycled denim or soy.
There are even simpler areas that can be insulated, such as door thresholds and windows. These areas are in every home and are often associated with significant drafts that suck heat right out of a home. Using foam weather-stripping around exterior door frames, installing a door draft-guard at the bottom, and treating windows with plastic barrier insulation are very low-cost mitigation strategies. Storm doors and windows are also a great tool to provide an extra barrier of thermal protection and should be installed for the season.
While not commonly found in all homes, fireplace chimneys and built-in air conditioning units may also contribute to heat loss. For an infrequently used fireplace, a flue blocker may be a good solution as it is a tighter seal than the closed flue and is hidden from view. Another option is a fireplace blanket that hangs around the exterior of the fireplace to reduce updraft. If you happen to have one or more air conditioner units installed in the wall of your house, you might want to consider getting a custom cloth cover that slips over the front or back.
It may seem a bit obvious, but, more often than not, people forget to turn off lights after leaving a room during the winter months. This is especially an issue after Daylight Savings Time ends and it gets dark before most people get home from work. You run inside, turn on the lights to grab a snack, and rush back out for the evening’s activities – leaving random lights on all over the home.
Often it is children’s bedrooms that remain lit, which is understandable considering they aren’t paying the electricity bill! Try posting a sticker on the light switch or hanging a sign on the door to remind kids (and yourself) to turn lights off when leaving the room. Winter is also a good time of year to look into energy-saving LED lights. LED bulb technology is advancing quickly, which is helping the price of residential LED bulbs drop rapidly. While more expensive than incandescent, halogen, and compact fluorescent bulbs, LED bulbs offer longer life and more efficiency.
Thermostatic controllers have been available for decades, but maybe yours is decades old! Upgrading to a modern thermostat is usually an intermediate-level DIY project and well worth the investment. The U.S. Department of Energy asserts that “you can save as much as 10% a year on heating by simply turning your thermostat back 7-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.” So why not automate this so you don’t have to think about it?
In addition to modern digital thermostats, the past decade has seen a boom in “Smart Home” technologies that not only provide control over many household appliances, but can allow advanced automation and remote control via the internet. Some of these systems are elaborate and costly to retrofit in an older home, but coupling some simple, affordable technologies such as WiFi-connected “smart” outlets and light bulbs with a Google Home, Amazon Echo, or similar device can give you access to lights or appliances through a smartphone app – allowing you unfettered control from almost anywhere.