Warm the house and freeze the pocketbook

Man checking thermostat

When the mercury dips, home heating bills rise. Warming your home represents the biggest slice of the winter utility expense pie — 35 to 50% annually, especially in chillier climates. Homeowners and renters alike can benefit from a few preventive maintenance tips to help melt utility bills and keep your home repair budget in check.

Heat things down

Put the heat to bed with the rest of the family. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests lowering the thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours could save you around 10% a year on heating bills. A smart or programmable thermostat can make it easy to set your temperature and forget it.

Regularly check and/or replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filters. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy and costs you more money. Consider a furnace upgrade if yours is more than 15 years old. Newer, high-efficiency furnaces typically run at about 96% efficiency.

If you don’t have the money available, consider a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to help pay for big expenses. Additionally, you can apply and may qualify for the federal government’s Energy Star equipment tax credits for homes, which could possibly put money back in your pocket after replacing your furnace, for instance.

Seal doors and windows

Stop throwing money out the window. A lot of your home’s heat is lost through leaky windows and doors. An easy tip for spotting leaks is to light an incense stick and hold it up to the inside of doors and windows on a breezy day. If the smoke drifts horizontally, there’s a leak. If so, caulk it.

Additionally, tape clear plastic film over your window frames during the cold winter months. Ensure a tight seal to help reduce air leaks.

Stoke the fire

A fire not only looks and feels good, but wood is sometimes cheaper than gas or electricity. On the downside, about 25,000 homes suffer a fire each year that starts in the fireplace or chimney. So sit by the fire with care. Hire a professional to clean and inspect the chimney and flue at the start of the season.

Prevent frozen pipes

New homes with pipes placed near exterior walls can be as prone to freezing as pipes in poorly insulated older homes. Frozen pipes can burst, which can be difficult and expensive to fix.

Insulate pipes and wrap them with a warming tape to prevent bursting under extremely cold temperatures. If funds allow, you can also insulate the walls or ceilings that contain the pipes.

Shut off all exterior water faucets — including irrigation systems. Then disconnect and store garden hoses and sprinklers. On extremely cold days, turn indoor faucets on and let water trickle continuously. If there is a cabinet under the sink, open the doors to let warm air heat the pipes.

In addition to these winter energy saving tips, build up your emergency fund now so you’re prepared for a possible surprise.

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