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15 low-cost ways to reduce your winter energy bill

Winter heating bills are expected to rise up to 13% this year. Take these steps now to reduce your heating costs.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 18, 2013 12:15PM

This post comes from Susan Ladika at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyAs you dig out your sweaters and winter coats and prepare to ward off the cold, you also should think about ways to ward off higher energy bills in your home.

More than 90% of American households can expect to pay more to heat their homes this winter because of higher fuel costs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

How much more you pay between Oct. 1 and March 31 will depend on how you heat your home.

  • Homes that heat with natural gas are expected to pay an average of $679 this winter -- up 13% from the previous year.
  • Homes heated with propane can expect a 9% increase, to $1,666.
  • If you use electric heating, your costs are projected to nudge up 2%, to $909.
  • If you use heating oil, your costs are expected to dip 2%, but you’ll still pay a whopping $2,046 on average.

Here are some simple, low-costs steps you can take to cut your winter heating bill. None of these changes require big investments to put them into place, yet they can add to big savings for you.

Focus on the furnace

Home heating is a big energy user, accounting for 45% of your bill.

  • You can save 5% to 15% of your heating costs by lowering your thermostat by 10 or 15 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That's up to 1% in savings for each degree you lower your thermostat.
  • Because of limitations with various forms of heating, that might not be the best choice if you have a heat pump, electric resistance heating, steam heating or radiant floor heating. If you have one of those systems, just lowering the thermostat a degree or two, and leaving it there, will save you money in the long run.
  • Be sure to replace your furnace filter regularly -- monthly depending on the kind you buy. Some filters run as little as a couple bucks, but don't help clean the air. More expensive filters do a better job of removing particles from the air. You can find a review of various types of furnace filters at

Water heaters

Water heating is your second-biggest energy user, accounting for 18% of your bill.

  • Make sure the thermostat on your water heater is set at 120 degrees. That cuts the amount of heat lost into the surrounding area, according to the nonprofit Residential Energy Services Network.
  • Wrapping your older water heater in an insulation jacket and insulating your hot water pipes also will help save you money.

Home insulation © ThinkStock/JupiterimagesCracks and gaps

There are plenty of places where warm air can seep out of your house, while the cold creeps in.

  • Thoroughly check the interior and exterior of your house for cracks and gaps. Pay particular attention to areas around chimneys, furnace flues, pipes, electrical outlets, windows and doors.
  • You can fill in small spaces with caulk, and use spray foam to seal bigger openings.
  • By installing a door sweep under exterior doors, you’ll prevent cold drafts from blowing in. They're often available for free when your utility company has a community event.


Attic and basement

  • Your attic may be insulated, but it's easy to overlook the attic door. Adding a layer of insulation to the door will prevent heating from rising into that space.
  • While you're in the attic, check your ducts. If you find any rips or holes, use mastic or foil tape to seal those.
  • Then check the basement. RESNET recommends checking the basement rim joist at the top of the basement wall, where the cement meets the wood frame. It's often a source of heat loss, so be sure to add insulation.


Inefficient windows can account for 10% to 25% of heating loss, according to the DOE.

  • Instead of a costly window replacement project, you can install window film that resembles plastic wrap and helps retain heat. The film is applied on the interior of your windows, and can be easily removed when spring rolls around.
  • Another way to reduce heat loss is to keep drapes closed at night or when the sun isn’t streaming in. The DOE says closing the drapes can reduce heat loss by up to 10 percent. When it's sunny, open your blinds or drapes and let the sun pour in and warm your home.


Unless you're using your fireplace, keep the damper closed. A chimney creates a draft, pulling air from the room. An open damper lets warm air -- and your money -- go up your chimney like smoke.

Ceiling fans

You probably don't give a second thought to using ceiling fans in summer to keep your house cool. Most ceiling fans have a switch so you can set the blades to rotate in reverse, pushing the warm air that’s near the ceiling down toward the floor.

You can find a whole host of energy-savings tips you can put into practice all year long at or from RESNET.

More on Money Talks News:

Oct 22, 2013 10:00AM

Live life on the edge!

Crank the heat to a comfy 72 degrees.

You only live once :)

Oct 26, 2013 9:52AM
Lower the thermostat by 10 degrees?...That would go over real well with the ladies.
Oct 26, 2013 7:19AM
Wrapping your water heater in a blanket will void most warranties on water heaters. Most are designed NOT to be wrapped. Most heaters have insulation installed on the inside of the skin and the tank. If you add insulation to the heater you will cause it to sweat and will damage the unit. Putting a blanket on a heater will not affect the water temperature that is produced by the water heater. Check your tech
Oct 26, 2013 10:19AM
If you lower the temperature in the house by 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours, how much energy would it take to elevate the temp back to say, 65? How long would it take to rewarm everything in the house?
Oct 26, 2013 9:02AM
Another thing to do is clean out your dryer duct....dryers pull a ton of energy to work.  We actually re-routed ours for faster air flow.  It cut down the time to dry a load in half, which cut our electricity use in half for that appliance.
Oct 26, 2013 10:32AM
Uh huh.
We already know all this stuff.
How about an article that shows you how to make the meter read slower.

Oct 26, 2013 10:03AM
Somebody can't count. There were only seven items on the list. Did I miss something ???
Oct 26, 2013 3:50AM

Here in deep south Texas, when it gets down to 70 degrees, I put on my jeans and flannel shirt.  When it drops to 65, the heat goes on.  Thank goodness these frigid temps only last about a week.  I don't miss the northern winters at all, although mowing the lawn, trimming the palms and deadheading all the flowering bushes 12 months a year can be tough.  (smug grin)

Oct 26, 2013 6:19AM
This guy should be doing infomercials.  
Oct 26, 2013 9:43AM
Orient the long side of the home toward the south. Do not put windows on the north side. Use thermal shutters on windows at night. Unfortunately, most home builders, city planners, and home buyers appear to be unaware that in the northern hemisphere the sun is in the southern sky. 
Oct 26, 2013 1:23PM
I like the DOE recommendation to turn down the thermostat 10 deg. that's genius just freeze your a** off. Hey I got an Idea just shut the house down get a tent and a sleeping bag and camp out in the front yard till spring.
Oct 26, 2013 11:03AM
Nope..............move south and stay warmer.
Oct 26, 2013 2:39PM
Lower my thermostat 10 to 15 degrees?  Really?  From 61 degrees where it now lives most of the time?  Author:  Have YOU done this?
Oct 26, 2013 2:58PM

They missed one point.  Make sure that the humidity in your home is at around 40% but not too much.  Moist air is much warmer than dry air.  I live in the desert and a humidifier works wonder.

Oct 27, 2013 5:50PM
My landlord thinks the only way to save money is freeze your sss off. Doesn't belive in filling in cracks or better windows.
Oct 27, 2013 5:50PM
Same info we all have heard before, maybe just don't practice.
Oct 26, 2013 12:29PM
I love ya O bummer. Throw out the socialists, drill, frack and pipe in Canadian oil to our refineries in the Sunbelt.
Oct 26, 2013 6:06AM
 Stop voting for socialist Nazi corrupt democrats you freaky stupid morons! No jobs and inflated energy cost is hardly good for any American except Al Gore and Obozo fund raisers in green scam energy. How stupid are you chicken little twits?
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