Many Pacific Northwesterners dread winter for the cold, rainy weather and the seasonal spike in household heating expenses. But, with some careful planning and a few practical solutions, you can ease the squeeze on your home’s energy budget without compromising personal comfort.
“Heating is the largest expense in most people’s monthly energy bill,” said Trevor Frick, the Clark Public Utilities Energy Councilor of the Day. “It’s not uncommon for some homes’ electricity consumption to triple or quadruple this time of year. So anything you can do to hold the heat inside longer or manage your power consumption more effectively will help keep power costs down.”
To start, Frick suggests making sure the thermostat is programmed around the household’s current lifestyle. Many people are living and working on different schedules than they were during the last heating season. Reflecting those changes in the thermostat’s programming will help make the most of every heating dollar.
Older homes and most apartments typically depend on non-programmable, knob-type mechanical thermostats for climate control. They get the job done, but are rarely accurate and can cause wide temperature swings that may drive up a home’s power consumption. Placing a digital ambient thermometer (which are cheap and widely available) in the room will give you a much more precise reading of the temperature — and ultimately greater control over your heating habits. A conservative heat setting is 68-70 degrees.
If your home has a furnace, make sure the filter is clean. If it’s not, replace it. It’s also smart to keep a spare or two on hand. While you’re thinking about it, take a moment to review your furnace’s or heat pump’s maintenance schedule. If it’s been more than a year since the last inspection or if it sounds or smells unusual while running, make an appointment with an HVAC specialist.
Use space heaters with caution. If your home has a central air system but you or your spouse spend most of your time in just one or two rooms, it may make sense to keep the thermostat for the home’s heating system low and use a space heater in that one room. But leave it running too long, too high or try to heat a large room and you’ll quickly burn through any potential energy savings. Don’t forget space heaters are potential fire hazards.
People living with zonal heaters — think cable ceiling, wall or baseboard heaters — should think further about why and how they’re heating their home and adjust their heating habits accordingly.
“We warm our homes to keep ourselves and our loved-ones warm — not the cupboard or the storage totes in the closet of your spare bedroom,” Frick said. “You want to turn down the heat in those rooms, opening them up periodically to prevent moisture issues, but you don’t want to warm them more than necessary when you’re not using them.”
For other energy saving habits look beyond the heaters.
Tiny air leaks throughout the home are cumulatively responsible for a surprising amount of heat loss. You can stop them by adding pre-formed insulation gaskets to your switches and outlets. Also, lock all of the windows around your home. Closing the latch will pull the window shut and compress the seal tighter.
Behavioral changes can also help reduce home expenses. Get in the habit of shutting off any lights or electronics you’re not using, open the blinds to allow in natural light during the day and close them at night. Plus, this is a great time to year to cozy up with a favorite sweater or a warm blanket.
With a little planning it’s possible to keep heating costs down without sacrificing a comfortable, cozy home in the winter.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668