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Energy savings goals before winter arrives

Date posted:  9/27/17 01:30:00 PM How to save on heating costs this winter.

Most of us use indoor heating in the winter and plenty of cool air conditioning in the summer. But at the same time, the expense of powering those heating and cooling devices can be difficult to manage. In the transitional seasons of fall and winter when you might be getting used to the idea of lower gas and electricity bills, take the time to evaluate your energy use and consider ways to cut back.

Even though heating and cooling costs can run high during peak season, many of us assume there is little to be done about the problem. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the average American household spends around $2,200 per year‡ for power, natural gas and water, whether those are used for heating, cooling, cooking, drinking or something else. But the DOE also estimates this average bill could be reduced by 25 percent—which equates to about $550 in savings each year—by being more mindful of energy use.

Being proactive on energy

To help you reduce energy consumption, it's important to remember the basics of heating and cooling. To do that, we need to go back to some lessons you may have learned in an introductory physics class. The sensation of cold is simply the absence of heat, so refrigerators and air conditioners don't make cold air, they actually transfer the heat from one place to another.

Reducing energy use comes down to finding the balance between active and passive controls for heat. Your furnace and the air conditioning system are active, since they need energy (in the form of either electricity or gas) to move heat. Passive heating and cooling measures include things like insulation, which keeps heat inside during the winter and outside during the summer.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to reduce your utility bill:

  • Check the seals on things like your fridge and freezer door, as well as around exterior doors and windows. The more tightly sealed these things are from their environment, the less energy will be needed to add or remove heat.
  • The DOE recommended keeping your fridge set to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer to five degrees. These temperatures should be adequate to keep food as cold as it needs to be. Keeping the fridge as stocked as possible can also help, since food and liquids create an insulating effect.
  • If you have a thermostat to control your home's heating and cooling, the DOE recommends‡ setting it to 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer for the most efficient performance. If you can program your thermostat to keep a slightly warmer temperature in the summer or cooler temperature in the winter while you're usually away at work or school, you can save even more on utility bills.

Water heating costs

Another bit of thermodynamics to know when working toward a lower utility bill: water is hard to heat. One reason why water is so essential for life is because it has a specific high heat capacity, which means it can absorb a lot of energy without its temperature changing much. This explains why home water heaters are among the biggest energy hogs, especially in winter. The DOE estimated that hot water use is responsible for around 18 percent of household energy expenses.

To get around this, look for ways to reduce your overall water use as well as how often your water heater runs:

  • Take shorter and fewer showers.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Cold water works just as well as hot water for all but the toughest stains.
  • Be on the lookout for leaky pipes.
  • Wrap appropriate insulation around the water heater and its pipes if possible.

Reducing your utility bills is a lifestyle, but it may not happen overnight. These tips can help you reduce your bills this winter and beyond.