Winter Energy EfficiencyIt seems that winter home heating costs increase a little more with each passing year. Yet many families, especially those living in older houses, don’t realize they’re literally surrounded by opportunities to trim winter home heating and utility bills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that American families spend nearly $1,100 on home heating and cooling costs each year – nearly half their total energy expenditures. However, experts agree that taking steps now to “winterize” the home can result in steep savings – sometimes as much as 20 percent.

The following energy efficiency tips don’t just work for homeowners. Apartment tenants and mobile home residents can also put these ideas and strategies into action. Just make sure to check with proprietors or property managers first.

Seal Up Your Home, and Seal In The Savings

You wouldn’t set sail in a leaking boat, so why brave winter temperatures in a leaky house? Winterize your home by weather-stripping doorways and windows, sealing cracks and fissures in the window and doorframes and keeping holes in the walls and ceilings shut tight. Small cracks equal big expenses: experts say a one-eighth inch gap between a door and its frame costs as much as a six-inch wide hole in your wall.

Windows, especially single-pane glass windows, are poor retainers of heat. Plastic film storm windows, available at most hardware stores and easy to install, will also trim electricity costs by better insulating your widows and window frames.

Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use. Unplug outdoor appliances and electronics to keep them from passively absorbing electricity. Consider upgrading your traditional wood-burning fireplace to a more energy efficient fireplace insert.

Don’t waste money by heating areas of the house that don’t get a lot of activity. Shut the doors and vents to unused or seldom-used rooms (guest bedrooms, basements, et cetera). This will better convey heat to high-traffic areas. Open all the curtains and blinds of south-facing windows, to better allow sunlight to heat your home naturally.

Adding insulation to your home, especially your attic, also helps you save big. You can also add insulation to other unfinished space in your home such as basement walls, crawlspaces, ceilings, and utility closets.

Dial Down the Thermostat and Dial Back The Utility Costs

Fireplace InsertsSetting your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in cold weather months can quickly add up to energy savings. The California Energy Commission reports that you’ll save up to five percent on home heating costs for every degree you lower your thermostat within the 60- to 70-degree range. At night, dial back the thermostat to 55 degrees, or turn it off, to save up to 20 percent on heating costs. (To prevent overuse of backup strip heating, dial heat pumps back no more than two degrees.)

Installing programmable thermostats takes the constant supervision out of monitoring your home’s temperature level. Make sure the thermostat is properly installed in a part of your home that’s heated, so it can accurately monitor home heating levels.

Old Man Winter Is Hard On Old Furnaces and Heaters

If your home’s furnace or heating system is more than ten years old, the EPA recommends getting it a thorough inspection by a licensed heating expert or contractor. You should also check your heater’s air filter every month to make sure it stays clean, and replace it when needed.

Winterize Your Water Pipes and Hot Water Heaters

Save up to seven percent on your electricity bill by dialing your hot water heater’s thermostat down to 120 degrees. You can save even more by wrapping or insulating the pipes running from the hot water heating unit to the wall. Wrap the heating unit in an energy-saving heater blanket or jacket (available at most hardware stores). Consider buying a newer, more energy efficient heater: most water heaters have twelve-year life spans; older units will likely need servicing or replacement.

Drain a bucket of water from your hot water heater before the cold weather truly sets in. This will remove sediment and granular matter that accumulates inside the pipes and “prime” your heater for the months ahead, making ti run more effectively.

Save on laundry costs by washing your clothes in cold water, and running only full loads. Running cold-water laundry loads decreases the washer’s energy usage by 75 percent.

Take shorter and cooler showers; install low-flow showerheads to slash hot water expenses as much as 16 percent.

As with the window and door gaps, save money by caulking or sealing all cracks, fissures and openings.

Invest In A Wood-Burning Stove

Winter Energy EfficiencyDownsize your home heating utility bills altogether by investing in a vent-free or direct-vent stove. Usually powered by wood, propane, or natural gas, direct vent stoves use double-walled stovepipe to funnel exhaust away from the home’s interior, while remaining much more energy efficient than conventional (or B-vent) wood-burning fireplaces.

Vent-free fireplaces are self-contained (as the name implies, no venting is needed) and almost 100% efficient. Both direct-vent and vent-free stoves make excellent heating choices for bedrooms, family rooms, and basements. Electric space heaters may also offer opportunities for greater energy efficiency in parts of the home that are difficult to heat through conventional means.

Look for ENERGY STAR Products

Energy experts recommend investing in appliances, electronics, and heaters with the ENERGY STAR certification, which are certified by the EPA as using 20 – 30 percent less energy than comparable, non-certified products. Visit the official ENERGY STAR website for more information.