January Money Diet Day 4 – Save Money on Your Energy Bill

Lower your utilities | January Money Diet

We’re off to a strong start, and I want to thank all of you who have taken time to share your ideas and experiences in comments this week. I also want to welcome the new dieters who are just joining — so glad you’re with us! Just jump right in, and feel free to participate and comment on the topics covered in earlier posts.

But First…

Before we get in to today’s topic, I have a special surprise. Yesterday we talked about planning meals to eat well and save money, and I’d like to give a shout-out to some terrific participants who left great comments yesterday.

101 things to Do With BeansBIG thanks to Kimberly, Amy, Becky, Jenny, Annie, Meg, Susan T., Katy, Inta and Betty D., who shared specific meal ideas and tips on the post to help us all. To show my appreciation, I am sending each of these generous participants a signed copy of my cookbook 101 Things To Do With Beans. This spiral cookbook has dozens of recipes for some of my favorite dishes like Tamale Bean Soup, Italian White Bean Spread, Crispy Bean Flautas with Guacamole, Marinated Bean and Artichoke Salad, and six ways to cook inexpensive dried beans to tender perfection.

If you commented yesterday and your name is listed above, e-mail me at elizagcross(at)gmail(dot)com with your shipping address, and I’ll send your book out pronto. Watch for more surprises and giveaways during the month.

Save Energy and Money

Today we’re going to explore ways to save by lowering our home energy bills. We’ll enjoy the financial rewards, and we’ll have the added environmental benefit of reducing our own carbon footprint.

The January Money Diet is an excellent time to experiment with some new energy-saving strategies. Here in the Northern hemisphere many of us are facing larger-than-normal energy bills due to colder-than-normal temperatures.

(To our friends in the Southern hemisphere who are in the middle of summer and facing cooling challenges, you might enjoy this article from HGTV with 14 ways to survive summer without air conditioning.)

These are some wintertime energy-saving ideas for you to consider:

Get Caulking

Remove window trim

Removing trim to seal a drafty window

Drafts increase home energy use 5 to 30%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, with 11% of a home’s heat loss occurring through poorly-sealed doors and windows. If you already have caulk or sealing supplies on hand, go around your house when the temperatures are nippy and find any places where you have leaks. Sealing up air leaks now will permanently reduce the amount of expensive heated air that escapes, and will also help keep your home cooler during hot temperatures.

If you’re a DIYer like me, you might enjoy reading about my incredible discovery when I removed the window trim shown in the photo above. You never know what you’ll find in a 1970s home, but over time we have made many improvements to seal up the leaks and drafty areas.

Get Cooking

Baking and cooking not only warm us on the inside, they help warm the kitchen, too. If you don’t have young children or curious pets in the home, you can leave the oven door ajar after you turn off the stove to let some of that warm air heat the room.

Let the Sun Shine In

On sunny days, open the blinds or drapes to allow the sun to shine in and warm your house with passive solar energy.

Dress Right

Before turning up the thermostat, try throwing on a sweater. It’s much less expensive to warm you than your whole house. Dressing in layers helps trap heat, and sometimes just adding a camisole or undershirt can make you feel much warmer. Good socks will help your toes stay warm, too.

If you’re prone to cold hands, here’s a funny low-tech tip I read that actually works: fill a water bottle with hot water and roll it between your palms to warm them up.

Check Your Furniture

January is a great time to rearrange the furniture, and while you’re at it you can make sure that sofas, beds, bookcases and chairs are not blocking any heat vents or radiators.

Find the Right Water Temperature

There’s nothing better than a hot shower or bath on a chilly day. On the other hand, we don’t need to continuously heat all of that water in the tank hotter than it needs to be. (If you have an on-demand water heater, this tip doesn’t apply… and I am a little envious.)

You may wish to turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a water heater setting of 120 degrees F.)

Bust a Move

Exercise, dance, clean the house, run up and down the stairs — just get moving to increase your blood flow and circulation, and you’ll feel warmer.

Get Cozy

We keep warm blankets in the family room so we can snuggle up on the couch while we’re watching movies. You might also like to try sleeping with flannel sheets or an extra blanket on the bed at night. January is a great month to experiment with turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. We have warm comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned way down, cozy under the covers.

Light Right

If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs.

Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light occasionally this month. (My son loves it when we do this). Get in the habit of always turning off lights when you leave a room, and take advantage of natural sunlight whenever possible.

Unplug Sneaky Energy Draws

Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity, which means our plugged-in DVD players and stereos and coffee grinders and power drills are costing us money and wasting energy when we’re not using them. Unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. Plug appliances you use often into a power strip with an on/off button for added convenience. Every little bit helps.

Be Snug As a Bug

Area rugs will help warm up hard floor surfaces. You can also reduce drafts under doors by making your own door draft stopper from materials you might already have on hand.

Run the Ceiling Fan

This always seemed counter-intuitive to me until I tried it. Warm air rises, so if you reverse your fan to a clockwise direction and run it on the very lowest speed, the blades will gently push the warm air back down into the room. This tip seems to work best in homes with tall ceilings.

Cover Drafty Windows

My insulation guy told me this trick: Close your blinds at night with the blinds pointed upward toward the ceiling so that cold air isn’t drawn into the house. Even when the blinds are open during the day, he recommends tilting them slightly up to reduce drafts.

Be sure to close drapes and shades at night to keep the heat in. We buy window film kits on sale in April and use them to line a couple of drafty windows the following winter; I’m always amazed at how well they work. Some people cover their windows with bubble wrap for additional insulation; I haven’t personally tried that, but if you already have the supplies you may want to experiment.

How About You?

What are your favorite ways to save energy? If you try any of these ideas this month, will you share your experiences in the Comments section of this page? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Hugs and stay cozy,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day 4 – Save Money on Your Energy Bill

  • Lyn

    Love the idea of making my own plastic interior window inserts. Such a great idea. I just need my hands to heal from recent carpal tunnel surgery so I can hold tools and use my fingers to put things together!! I find that as I get older, I am less and less tolerant of being cold. We used to keep our furnace at 63, but it has crept up to 67… And I still wear many layers and hand warmers…Thanks for the inspiration everyone!

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the ideas, Eliza. I just found your site recently and am really enjoying all you offer here. Your tips seemed very thorough to me. My best tip to be situationally aware. Different seasons require different measures. Always do what works best for you. To me, there is always a better way to do everything. I just have to find it!

  • Deborah

    I am interested in trying the film to cover a couple of drafty windows. How do you attach to your windows? Any tips would be great! Thanks!

  • Susan Trimble

    Eliza I tried to email my address to you for the cookbook at elizacross@gmail.com. Got a reply saying this was the wrong address. Please help.

  • Laura

    At the moment we’re residing in a travel trailer while our home is being remodled and it uses propane so to conserve propane, we turn off the water heater with a handy switch during the day and while we’re sleeping. We also unplug the mini microwave when not in use and turn the thermostat down during the day and let the sun shine thru the Windows.

  • Moz

    I’ve have found it worth investing in ceiling insulation in. The method involves spraying in a type of cellulose fiber ceiling insulation, which is in fact newspaper that has been milled to the required density and that has been specially treated to be fire resistant . this treatment will become law in South Africa for new houses. Our home is at least 3-5 degrees warmer in winter and cooler in summer. For a small investment this has really become an energy saver for us.

  • We had to replace our home security and thermostat recently, and it had a “smart” feature that turned out not to be smart at all. It was sensing when we were at home and adjusting the thermostat all day long, up and down… When we went back to our daytime 67 and nighttime 64 we found our bills went back down, too.

  • I fear I’m a bit of an energy nerd, so I could write a novel on this topic. In fact, a few years ago I had an energy audit done on my house and they said that they couldn’t really recommend sealing things up any further, because if I did, they’d have to put a fresh air vent in the house somewhere to let some air in!

    Anyhow, a few tips that you haven’t mentioned…

    Curtains are great for windows, but even the thick ones don’t really help much if there’s a space between the glass and the curtain. This is because the cold air sinks and heat rises so basically you get a current going right next to the glass which carries the cold air down over the glass and to the floor. BUT, if you add some sort of a blind under the curtain (even a cheap roller blind) that is attached flush up against the window frame, it will block the air from flowing over the glass and stop the flow of cold air to the floor. The best thing for this purpose is cellular shades, because they also trap air in the cells of the shade to provide more insulation, but they can be a bit pricey. I’ve actually made window covers from old blankets and quilts attached with velcro at the top and clips at the bottom. They take a bit more effort to put up and take down each day than a nice cellular shade, but they make a HUGE difference.

    If you feel crafty, you can also make interior storm windows using plastic film stretched over a wooden frame. If you make it so that there is film on both the front and back of the frame with air trapped between, you get a much higher insulating value than one single layer of film. The design varies depending on your window frames, but you generally can put foam stick-on insulation around the edge to block drafts, and then you can easily remove them in the summer and put them back up in the winter. One word of warning though… plastic film isn’t a great solution if you, ahem, have felines who like to shred things!

    And one final thing I’ll mention is that if you have an attic fan or swamp cooler that vents through the ceiling, it’s super important to cover the opening in the winter to keep out drafts. You can buy kits for this purpose, but I just crafted something myself using some plastic sheeting, an old blanket for insulation, some mylar, and velcro to hold it all to the ceiling. It’s not as pretty as it might be, but it sure keeps it nice and warm in here!

  • I live a very small space so for me it works well to turn the furnace down quite low at night. I’m under the cover of warm blankets and sleep really well with the cold air. I have a programmable thermostat that I set to kick on about 20-30 minutes before I need to get up. I also have a space heater with a remote control that I can kick on when the alarm first goes off. By the time I need to get out of bed, it is quite comfortable. Of course, this plan might not work as well in a large space if it takes a lot more to get the space warm.

  • Susan Trimble

    We have a wood burning stove in our den. This really helps. Also layering our clothes is a big help. Draft stoppers are a big help.

  • Meg

    We have a wood burning stove in our kitchen and a fireplace in the living room that heats all our water the wood used to run then comes from trees and hedgerows my husband maintains on our property we both love trees so we do not cut down unless there is no way we can save it.
    When there is no other alternative but to cut we replace with new saplings ready for the next generation.

  • Betty

    All the energy tips are very helpful. We do many of them. Just last week, we replaced 75% of all our light bulbs to LEDs. The reason we have a few more to do is because the ones we needed were unavailable – the store said that they really sold a lot of them over the holidays. We keep our heat as low as we can – we only turn it up when we have extra layers on and are still chilled. We are very careful to turn off unnecessary lights and are trying to teach our grandchildren to get better at it, making it a game instead of a discipline.

  • Leah

    Thanks for your letters! The best way I know how to keep warm (while keeping the thermostat down) is by doing JustDance videos on Youtube. They are fun — it takes no effort to motivate myself to move around, and the music helps lift my mood in the darker winter months. They have lots of different songs and dance styles. It’s a wii game, but you don’t need any of the apparatus…do a couple to get your heart rate up and then enjoy temperatures that had been uncomfortable just 10 minutes before! I’m always surprised how low I can go when I’ve been moving around.

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