During the sweltering summer months, many of us grow nostalgic for the refreshing chill of winter. However, with the winter solstice fast approaching, some people are regretting their desire for cold weather.
As temperatures drop, home heating bills have a tendency to skyrocket. However, it’s not too late to make some cheap — and even free — home improvements to cut your energy costs. Here are 11 simple ways to winterize your home without breaking your budget.
Install Weather Stripping and Caulking
Price: Less than $70
Do a match test to determine if and where cold air is getting into your house. Start by holding the flame of a match, candle or lighter in front of your window and door frames. Just take care to stay clear of drapes and other flammables. If it’s not windy outside, or if the wind isn’t blowing in the right direction, have someone stand on the other side with a blow dryer or fan. If the flame flickers, you have a leak, and home insulation will be key in creating a warm winter for you.
Seal suspect spots with weather stripping or caulk. Winterize windows, especially. You should cover areas of glass with window insulation film, a window seal or window plastic, particularly if you live in a cold climate. Doing this can prevent up to 70 percent of that hot air you’re paying for from leaking outside. Remember, you’re not just trying to prevent the cold from coming in, you’re also trying to prevent warm air from getting out.
Insulate Your Drafty Attic
Price: About $25 per insulation roll
Heat rises. Cold air sinks. And, if you have an attic, both of these facts work against you. Fortunately, adding some insulation to your crawl space can solve the problem — and save your wallet.
To start, take a look around your attic and see if any 2x4s are peeking through the insulation covering your attic floor. If so, it’s a sign you should add more insulation. You can do it yourself if you don’t mind a little mess. It’s not a complex process, but be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves, because fiberglass causes itching when it comes in contact with your skin.
Use any leftover insulation to pack around window air conditioning units and basement doors and windows.
Buy a Programmable Thermostat
Price: $25 or more
Don’t forget to turn the thermostat down when the whole family is out of the house for school or work. If you’re always rushed in the morning and regularly forget to adjust the temperature, consider purchasing a programmable thermostat for about $25. If you know anything about wiring — or if you have a friend who does — you can save some cash by installing it yourself.
Program the thermostat to turn down when you’re leaving the house and to power back up at sunset, when everyone is getting home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save about 10 percent a year on your heating costs just by setting the thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day.
If you have a collection of ugly sweaters that Aunt Ethel knitted for you, consider breaking them out rather than turning up the heat this winter. Donning a sweater — or snuggling under an afghan or comforter as you’re watching TV — can also save you big bucks on your energy bill. In fact, a heavy sweater will warm you up by about 4 degrees.
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Reverse Your Ceiling Fans
You might be hesitant to switch on your ceiling fan in the winter. However, changing your fan to a clockwise rotation can actually make your room feel warmer.
Remember, heat rises. Unless you want to heat up the attic — because you haven’t gotten around to replacing that insulation — change the settings on your fan so the blades turn clockwise. Doing this pushes the hot air down and helps it circulate throughout your room. Most fans have switches on them, so you can reverse the blades easily. You can cut your heating costs by another 10 percent with this trick alone.
Set Down Draft Guards
Price: Up to $15
It’s what your grandmother did, and it still works well. Roll up old towels or fill old pillowcases with sand or kitty litter, then tuck your creations up against the bottoms of all your outside doors to keep the heat in and the cold out.
These are an easy home DIY project, but you can also buy draft guards or “snakes” for $10 to $15, if you’re worried that your guests will lift their eyebrows at your decor. Try dressing up that old pillowcase by sewing on interesting patches or other fabric, if you’re handy with a thread and needle.
This trick won’t just help you keep warm. Drafts can throw your thermostat off as well, resulting in false readings that can make your energy system generate more heat than it needs.
Install a Chimney Balloon
Price: About $55
If you have a fireplace, you’re probably losing a significant amount of heat to the chimney — up to 40 percent of the room’s heat, in fact. Fear not: You can fix this issue on the cheap.
Insert an uninflated chimney balloon about a foot into the chimney and then blow it up until it meets and grips the chimney walls. The balloon will stay there all winter or until you remember to open the valve and let the air out again. Just make sure to remove it before you build a fire — or if you’re expecting Santa.
Change Your Heating System’s Filter
Price: From $10 to $1,000
Winterizing your heating system can be cheap or expensive, depending on the method you choose. You can change the filter for as little as $10. Doing this will make your system more efficient, and an energy efficient heater doesn’t have to work as hard.
You should replace the filters once a month during the winter, but at the very least remove and clean them every few weeks. Additionally, you can opt to buy a permanent, electrostatic filter. These can run up to $1,000, but some cost as little as $50. They trap almost 90 percent of debris. Your family will feel healthier without all that pollen in the spring, summer and fall, and the filter will help your heating system function at peak performance all winter long.
If you do have to replace your furnace, consider Energy Star products. This won’t reduce your initial expenditure, but you’ll use up to 30 percent less energy.
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Turn Down Your Water Heater
You might be unaware that the technician who installed your home’s water heater set the temperature at 140 degrees. This standard is not necessary for most households, which end up paying the price for this overzealous setting. You can easily reduce the setting to 120 degrees or below, and save between 6 and 10 percent on your water heating costs. Bonus: You’ll run less of a risk of getting burned in the shower or as you’re washing dishes.
No need hire a technician to turn the temperature down for you — it’s a relatively easy process you should be able to do for yourself. First, test your current temperature by letting the hot water run for three minutes, fill up a cup with hot water, and stick a thermometer in. Just to be sure, run another test the next day. If the temperature is higher than 120 degrees, you can go ahead and lower it. First, locate your water heater. Then, just look for the control dial located on the outside of your gas unit, or the two dials at the top and bottom of an electric unit, and adjust to your desired temperature.
Insulate Your Pipes
Price: $10 to $15
Insulating your water pipes is an excellent and often overlooked way to save money on water heating costs. As a bonus, insulating your pipes also serves to protect them from freezing, which can have disastrous — and expensive — consequences.
First, determine whether your pipes are good candidates for insulation or not. To do so, carefully touch them. If they are warm to the touch, this means you can go ahead and start insulating. Use the same method to determine whether your hot water heater would benefit from insulation, as well.
If you’re ready to insulate, head to a hardware store, where you can purchase pre-cut insulation foam for pipes. Look for the insulation with the highest “R-value,” which is a measurement of how much heat the insulation can block. Finally, simply cut the foam to the correct size for your pipes, and you’re all set.
Remove Snow the Right Way
Price: About $5
No matter how beautiful snow blanketing the world outside might look, nothing can be more discouraging than the prospect of having to shovel your way out of your own home. Luckily, knowing how to remove ice and snow from your home and car is simply a matter of a few time-saving tricks — which also means you don’t need to hire someone else to remove it for you.
To defrost windows, try filling a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, spraying the windows completely, and then patting dry with a towel. Clear alcohols like vodka, gin or rum, will also work. (As a bonus, you’ve just completely cleaned your windows.) To remove ice from car windshields, doors and locks, simply pour lukewarm — never hot — water over the area that needs to be de-iced, and repeat as many times as necessary.
In a genius move that will make clearing your car a snap after a snow, place a tarp over your car before it begins to snow. When you need to leave, just whisk it off. If you have a leaf blower, use it to blow lighter dustings of snow off driveways and pathways — no need to upgrade to a snow blower unless heavier drifts begin to pile up. Finally, if your car is stuck on ice, or you want to make sure people don’t slip coming up your walkway, any rough material that can be strewn about — like kitty litter, sand or birdseed — will keep your car or your guests from sliding around.
Embrace the Danish Concept of “Hygge”
Price: $10 to $50
The Danish concept of “hygge” — which roughly translates to coziness, happiness, simplicity and closeness to friends and family — is the perfect one to lean into during winter. It can make even the coldest, darkest days of winter feel much warmer, and can make you appreciate your home as a sanctuary you would prefer to be in instead of (expensive) restaurants and bars.
To create a hygge home, stock up on inexpensive candles — white, if you’d like to keep the Danish theme — at retailers like Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond, or even the dollar store. Having a home lit by candles instead of electric lighting at night not only helps you save money on electric bills by being a serious energy saver, it also creates an incredibly cozy and inviting atmosphere.
Hygge purists know that the more time spent in bed, the better. So pile on an extra down comforter or two, and indulge in activities in bed this winter you wouldn’t usually, whether it’s breakfast in bed or simply spending more time under the covers on the weekends. As a bonus, you won’t need to turn the heat up so high.
And, of course, if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, light a fire as often as possible — it’s one of the hygge-ist things you can do, and it can reduce your need to turn on the heater.
Methodology: Prices listed were sourced as an average, based off of items for sale at major home improvement retailers in North America. Costs reflect either the cost to purchase the item mentioned, or the cost of the items needed to complete the task.