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7 winter energy saving tips for Midwest homeowners

7 winter energy saving tips for Midwest homeowners

Key Insights

  • It doesn’t take big money to reduce your winter heating bills, but it can require a bit of up-front work.
  • Replacing just one aging device on your fireplace can reduce your home’s energy loss by 75%.
  • Not everything needs a full replacement! Keep your furnace running efficiently with simple filter replacements over the winter.

Winter is coming… and so are those astronomical heating bills. As you stay warm and dry, here are seven winter energy saving tips that can help you reduce heat loss and increase your home’s energy efficiency.

1. Replace an aging water heater

Most folks don’t think about replacing their water heater until they go to take a shower and…. Brrrr! But if your water heater is more than 8-10 years old, its energy efficiency could be lacking. Depending on your heat source and your household’s water needs, it may be smart to look into a new option. Consider:

  • A storage water heater that offers better insulation and efficiency
  • A demand water heater, which produces hot water on demand

This excellent guide from Smarter House can help you better understand which type of water heater will work best for your household.

2. Get an energy-efficient fireplace damper

Of all the winter energy saving tips we researched, this one was the most surprising to us. Even more than a drafty window, a faulty fireplace damper — the device that seals up your fireplace when it’s not being used — can lead to major heat loss and higher energy bills.

If a fireplace damper cracks, rusts or warps over time, the device can stop closing properly. And that means that on the nights when a fire isn’t roaring, the warm air from your furnace or radiators can flow directly up your chimney and out into the frigid winter air. (That sound you hear is your dad yelling, “Close the door — you’re heating the whole neighborhood!”)

In recent years, energy-efficient fireplace dampers have come on the market and they can be easily installed by a reputable chimney service or on your own if you’re handy. No matter how you choose to do it, be sure to replace your fireplace damper early in the winter months; according to HomeSaver, a study shows that closing up those fireplace leaks can reduce heat loss by more than 75%.

3. Invest in a programmable thermostat

Smart thermostats have been on the market for nearly a decade, but many homeowners are still manually updating their heat settings each day — or not changing them at all during the cold winter months.

This is a mistake that directly affects your heating costs, says the U.S. Department of Energy, which states that homeowners can “save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning [their] thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.”

A programmable thermostat makes it easy to automatically save money on your monthly heating bills; you can simply adjust the settings so that the temperature drops when everyone is at work or school, then rises as everyone returns home. You can even have it turn down the temperature overnight as everyone sleeps soundly under a plethora of blankets.

And if you’re in a constant battle over the exact temperature that should be set during those in-house hours, let this be the final word: the Department of Energy recommends that you program it to “68°F while you're awake and set it lower while you're asleep or away from home.”

4. Replace your furnace filters

If your home is heated by a furnace, be sure to check the filter monthly and replace it when you notice it is dirty and dusty. Generally, you should plan to replace the filter every three months to ensure that it’s running in tip-top condition. Think of your filter like the lint trap on a dryer: If it’s full and clogged up, it has to work harder to run. A new filter helps your heating system run more efficiently right away and can prevent expensive maintenance down the road.

5. Upgrade to LED holiday lights

While the holiday season comes and goes quickly, the ensuing energy bills can be surprisingly high. Whether you’re decorating a simple tree or going for a neighborhood-best holiday light display, keep in mind that your aging lights may be costing you more than you think.

According to the Edison Electric Institute, it can cost homeowners up to 8.68 cents per hour to light just one 100-count string of large, traditional holiday lights; the mini-lights you’d use on a tree cost just under a half-penny per hour.

We know that it might seem like overkill to replace all your holiday lights with brand-new LED offerings, when the hourly cost is less than half of a penny. But what if we told you that LED lights are ten times as energy efficient, meaning that you’d pay just a half a penny for ten hours of usage? According to the institute’s research, LED mini-lights cost just 0.0496 per hour.

The initial investment into LED holiday lights will be higher than the traditional lights, but they also tend to last longer. Just imagine how delightful it would be to plug in your holiday lights and have them work on the first try!

6. Check for air leaks and prevent drafts

From drafty windows to eaves to doorways and more, it’s likely that you have air leaks somewhere in your house. And during our ice-cold winter months, those air leaks can lead to quite a tidy profit for your utility company.

Here’s an exhaustive guide on how to check your home for air leaks. If you have an older home or one that seems particularly drafty as the weather cools, you may want to pay for a professional energy audit.

Even the tiniest of gaps in windows and door frames can lead to major heat loss over time. The Department of Energy recommends this simple test when checking them: “Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull the dollar bill out without it dragging, you're losing energy.”

Once you’ve identified the gaps, break out the caulk and weatherstripping to help seal the gaps and promote energy savings this winter. And don’t underestimate the power of those plastic window sealing kits if you need to cover drafty windows. After all these years, they’re still popular for a reason

On a larger scale, leaks from your attic can not only have a large impact on your heating bills — they can also lead to treacherous ice dams. Act now to save energy while also protecting your roof from severe damage. Here’s a handy guide on how to insulate your attic and help recoup the cost of the project at resale.

7. Use the ceiling fan all year

Using a ceiling fan during summer months to create a cool breeze is a no-brainer. But did you know that many ceiling fans offer the option to reverse their rotation (from counterclockwise during summer months to clockwise during winter) in order to force warm air down from the ceiling into your room? Energy Star recommends operating it at a low speed to realize additional energy and dollar savings.

Still have questions?

Need more help upgrading your house? Or maybe you’re ready to buy a newer house with energy-efficient features built right in! Either way, reach out to Edina Realty or one of our agents. We’re always available to help you strategize the best home choices for you and your family.

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