Reduce Your Winter Energy Bills
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Winter natural gas and electric bills can be very expensive, as Hoosiers try to keep their homes and businesses warm. By following several simple tips, consumers can reduce their energy use and better manage their heating bills.
In addition to following these tips, a home energy assessment can help significantly. Indiana utilities including AES Indiana, CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy, I&M, and NIPSCO offer energy efficiency programs.
Online audits can also help, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Energy Calculator.
- Start with your thermostat.
Set the thermostat at the lowest comfortable temperature and dress in warm, layered clothing.
When leaving your home for a few hours or going to bed at night, lower the thermostat a few degrees. A programmable or "smart" thermostat can do this automatically (and then reset the temperature later).
When entertaining friends, turn down the thermostat a degree or two before they arrive. The additional body heat will make up the difference.
- Maintain your furnace and heating system properly.
Older furnaces and those that are poorly maintained may run less efficiently, waste energy and cost you more money. A poorly maintained system can also be a safety hazard.
- Change your furnace filter regularly.
- Understand your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance guidelines, and follow them closely.
- Have your furnace inspected regularly (for both safety and energy efficiency reasons), following your manufacturer’s guidelines.
- If you have a natural gas furnace, check the pilot light periodically. It should be a steady blue flame.
- Check ductwork regularly to ensure there are no leaks.
- If your furnace has a built in humidifier, use it. The extra humidity will make the air feel warmer.
- Clean the vents regularly, and keep them unblocked. Dusting the thermostat regularly can also help.
- Draperies and ceiling fans can help your heating system.
Keep blinds, shades and draperies open during the day to allow sunlight in to warm your home or business (but close them at night for insulation purposes).
Plastic sheeting is a low-cost way to make windows more energy efficient.
Set ceiling fans to run clockwise. This will draw air up and keep warm air circulating. (During the summer, it is best to turn ceiling fans counter-clockwise to push air down and keep rooms cool.)
Use exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen as little as possible. Exhaust fans can quickly pull large amounts of heated air out of your home.
- Proper insulation is critical to maintaining an energy efficient home.
Make sure the attic, all exterior walls and floors are properly insulated, along with basements or crawl spaces (if applicable).
Make sure your insulation carries the proper rating for the region you live in.
- For houses in Indiana, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends at least an R-38 rating in attics.
- More information is available at your local hardware store, from the Department of Energy’s Insulation Fact Sheet, and from the Insulation Contractors Association of America.
Check weather stripping, caulking and seals around doors and windows. Several small holes or cracks throughout your home can allow just as much warm air to escape as one open window.
Use foam or plastic gaskets to insulate drafty electrical outlets along exterior walls.
If you have a fireplace, close the damper when not in use.
- The water heater is usually one of the least energy-efficient appliances in the home or business.
Set the temperature on your water heater at an appropriate level. 115 or 120 degrees should be warm enough to meet household needs.
Maintain your water heater by draining the sediment at least once a year.
Consider putting an insulation blanket or other type of insulation around your water heater. However, read your owner’s manual first to ensure that this will not create a hazard.
Insulate hot water pipes. By keeping the water in these pipes warm, the water heater will not be required to do as much work.
Install a water-efficient showerhead. It will save water and also save the energy needed to heat the water.
- Shop around for energy-efficient appliances.
Read the manuals for your home appliances. They may offer more specific instructions for saving energy.
Read the EnergyGuide label on any new appliance you consider buying. The label shows the appliance’s estimated energy consumption, along with the estimated annual operating cost.
Products with the Energy Star label operate well above minimum efficiency standards.
Microwaves use less energy than stoves and conventional ovens.
If your refrigerator was manufactured before July 2001, it may not be as efficient as newer models. The same goes for electric and natural gas water heaters made before January 2004, when new federal efficiency standards went into effect.
Make sure the door gaskets on freezers and refrigerators fit tightly. If you close the door on a dollar bill and the bill can easily be pulled out, the appliance is wasting energy.
Clean or vacuum the coils on your refrigerator at least twice a year. If your refrigerator is not frost-free, defrost it regularly.
Think twice before putting an old refrigerator or freezer in the garage or on the porch. Not only are older appliances less efficient, but a freezer may not work properly during winter if not placed in a temperature-controlled room.
Wash only full loads of clothing, but don’t overload the machine.
Use the right amount of detergent when doing laundry (using too much may waste energy).
Front-loading washing machines are much more efficient than traditional models.
Make sure your clothes dryer’s venting system is working properly.
- Use common sense.
Do not use a gas stove as a heating source. More than being inefficient, it is extremely dangerous.
If you use portable electric or kerosene heaters, be sure to use them carefully, keep them away from draperies and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Lighting, unplugging and landscaping make a difference.
Use energy efficient light bulbs, especially in lighting fixtures that are used extensively.
- Lighting technology has changed dramatically in recent years. Newer types of light bulbs can save money in the long run because of their low electricity use and extra long life.
- Light emitting diodes (LEDs) use just 20 to 25 percent of the electricity needed for incandescent bulbs, according to the US Department of Energy. An LED may also last up to 25 times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb.
- LEDs and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs create very little heat compared to incandescent bulbs.
- When shopping for LEDs or CFL bulbs, look at the lumens instead of watts. Lumens measure a bulb’s brightness.
- For example, a 100-watt incandescent bulb produces about 1,600 lumens.
- A 20-watt LED also produces about 1,600 lumens.
Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
If you are planning to be away from home and want to have lights or appliances turned on for security reasons, use a timer.
Use Christmas lights only after dark and turn them off before going to bed.
Turn off computers, TVs and other electronic devices when you are not using them. Use energy-saving options (such as the "standby" or "hibernate" modes) on computers and monitors.
Any appliance with a digital clock is still using power even when turned off.
Unplug chargers for cell phones, rechargeable batteries, other electronic devices and small appliances when you are not using them. Those devices still use power when plugged in, even if not actually in use. Another option is to plug them into a power strip, and then turn the power strip off except when necessary.
Landscaping, if done properly, can make your home more energy efficient year-round.
- The same trees that provide shade in the summer can make good windbreaks around your house in the winter. This is especially true of evergreen trees if planted to the north of your building.
- Deciduous trees - if planted on the west and south sides of your yard - and their leaves will help shade your home from sunlight during the summer. But because these trees lose their leaves in the fall, they will allow winter sunlight will reach the building, helping to keep it warm.
- Rocks and cement hold and radiate heat (an advantage in the winter but a disadvantage during summer).
- Call 811 or complete the form at 811now.com at least two days before planting trees or doing any other digging on your property.
- Additional information
For more tips and information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s
Consumer Information Website.
To help manage higher winter utility bills, the OUCC recommends participating in your utility’s budget billing program. The OUCC's consumer fact sheets on Natural Gas Prices and Understanding Electric Rates offer more information on budget billing and on the components that factor into your monthly energy bills.
If you are concerned about your ability to pay a utility bill due to financial hardship, please read the OUCC's Utility Service Disconnection fact sheet and frequently asked questions on the state's Winter Moratorium.