Day 8 Challenge – Radically Reduce Energy Use

Save energy during the January Money Diet

It’s January 8th, and we’ve now successfully crossed the one-week mark in the January Money Diet. I 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.

Today’s challenge probably won’t benefit your wallet this month, but you’ll appreciate it next month when your utility bill is lower than usual.

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. Our friends in the Southern hemisphere are in the middle of summer and facing cooling challenges. Either way, being especially mindful of energy use is an excellent way to save money — and help the environment.

Balance is Key

Avoid my mistakes during the January Money Diet

My friends, before we get started I do want to caution us all not to be penny wise and pound foolish as I was last winter. During one of those freakishly cold Arctic fronts when the nighttime temperatures were 15 below here in Denver, I had our heat turned down to 62 degrees at night and we had two pipes freeze and subsequently burst. My plumber told me that 65 degrees was the lowest we should go during those really cold temperatures. You know your home’s pipes best, and during very, very cold temperatures it’s not worth taking any chances on broken pipes.

These are some energy-saving ideas for those of us facing chilly winter temperatures right now:

Get Caulking

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.

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 propped open after you turn off the stove to let some of that warm air escape and heat the room.

Let the Sunshine 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 just the addition of a camisole or undershirt can make you feel much warmer. Good socks will help your toes stay warm, too.

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.) 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 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 once or twice 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

Unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. (Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity.) 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 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 push the warm air back down into the room. This works especially well in homes with tall ceilings.

Cover Drafty Windows

Close your blinds with the blinds pointed upward so that cold air isn’t drawn into the house, and 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 leaky 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 in January? If you try any of these ideas this month, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

Hugs and stay warm,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:  Asanka Dewage

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.

Day 8 Challenge – Radically Reduce Energy Use

  • I’ve been working on lowering my energy footprint, for both financial and environmental reasons, and already use a lot of your suggestions. I read the following on a blog recently and have been trying to keep it in mind when it comes to any energy use: If you were totally off grid and had to generate your own energy, which appliances lights would you actually use? Puts things in a totally different perspective.

  • Catherine Godfrey

    I do a lot of the things mentioned already. I keep the heat low. My husband seems to have issues w/ putting on extra clothes when he’s cold. I love using candles for light. We are actually caulking this weekend.

  • Cindy

    In my “shopping” at home the first of the month as part of the Money Diet, I found a lot of candles that I had gotten from my mother and hadn’t used. I’ve been lighting them every night and feeling cozy and saving energy.

  • Tricia

    I try hard to be as energy efficient as possible. I am constantly walking thru empty rooms and shutting off lights. We have been keeping the heat turned down and wearing extra layers and have an extra layer on the bed (and the 80# golden retriever that shares our bed helps too!!) not long after we moved into this house we redid the siding (as well as new exterior insulation underneath), new energy efficient windows, and a new roof. And got rid of the hot tub. What a HUGE difference that made! A few years back, we also got a pellet stove and that has made a big difference. Much cheaper to run than the existing oil heat and it heats almost the whole house just as well.

  • Jennifer

    Our winter bill is triple this month from our summer months. I pulled out some energy saving curtains and hung them up. They don’t really match since I have changed room colors but I can look at them for a couple months if it means a lower energy bill!

    I also bought a home warranty last month so as soon as Feb comes around, I will have our heating system serviced for more efficency. 🙂

  • Laura

    We keep our heat set at 68 in the daytime, which feels cold and 3 out of 4 of us are home during the day. So, after reading this challenge, we added window film to most of our windows and it really seems to be helping. We also turned on our ceiling fans. I had never thought to do that before! We get lots of southern sun in our house when it’s sunny (my favorite winter days). And as I type this, I’m snuggled under our sofa blanket.

  • Lyn Miller

    Love this list. Love all the suggestions everyone made. We just had a nasty cold spell last week, so I hung old quilts over two doors that seem draftier than others. What a difference it makes! I also make sure we close the door between the kitchen and the mud room – It’s incredible how much warmer it is when we keep the cold closer that open and close the most! Thank you for the ongoing inspiration. Has anyone every put book cases on a cold wall in an old house instead of gutting and putting in new insulation? I am trying to find a cost effective way to keep the rooms on the north end of our house warmer…Cheers to all!

  • Lisa D

    Hi ,I normally turn heater off during the day if it is warm outside. I turn back on at night. We live in Arizona .

  • Lisa Morowski

    Our programmable thermostat helps us by turning down the heat during the day when we are gone and during the night. Our fireplace has a heat exchanger on it that throws warm air back into the room and can heat our house. However, one year we figured that the cost of wood was equal to the cost of natural gas. It only pays if we bring home “free” wood from our land (but not making a special trip just for wood because then the cost of gas for the truck has to be added in). This article has really made me think about all the electronics and charging cords that are plugged in but not used during the day. That ghost electricity! I need to do a much better job of unplugging/turning things off.

  • Lynn Louise

    We are a pretty energy efficient family. We keep the lights off except for the room we are in. I have window and door drafts anywhere and everywhere. Lots of quilts on the beds. Flannel and fleece sheets. The fleece sheets are amazing. My husband loves them. You crawl in and you are instantly warm. We have insulated blinds and insulated curtains. We keep the heat at 60 or 62 during the day when no one is home. We turn the heat down to 57 degrees at bedtime. The bedrooms are upstairs and the heat rises so the upstairs is always warmer than the rest of the house anyway. Plus it is healthier to sleep in a colder environment (that’s the nurse in me coming out). We use the fireplace in our livingroom and keep the heat down. It makes such a big difference in the warmth of the livingroom. I will try remembering to unplug appliances. And I like EcoCatLady suggestion to put older blankets under the sheets. That would work good in our guest room. I am going to talk to my husband about adding an more insulation to the attic the next time it is on sale. I want to make a few warm quilts this year when I have time and I always use the extra thick batting. If you’re gonna make a winter quilt….make a WINTER quilt!

  • We have a programmable thermostat as well and found that changing to the nighttime temperature earlier (e.g. at 8:30 instead of 10 pm), thus heating the house for fewer hours a day, has also lowered our energy costs.

  • Lisa F

    Great tips! I actually made door draft stoppers last month. I didnt have a template or any guidelines. I just used leftover fabric and batting that I had. I made two and was happy to use up leftover supplies. Less to store!

  • Cindy

    Yikes. I turn my heat down to 57 at night. I’ve done it for years, even in deep freezes, so I guess my pipes are okay, but I’ll be mindful when it’s very cold out. I did open the cabinet doors under my sink and let the faucet drip ever so slightly during the coldest days this winter.

    I close my blinds every night and open them every morning to keep the cold air out and let the sun shine in.

    I have lots of blankets around to cuddle up in when I’m just sitting around.

    In the spring and fall when it’s warm (even hot) outside, my office often stays quite cold. Instead of turning up the heat for the whole house, I have an economical space heater I turn on and it keeps my office toasty.

  • Great list! I’m trying to get back on the going to bed at a decent hour bandwagon to save on lighting costs.

    I’m sort of an energy-saving fanatic, so I have a few crazy-lady things to add to your list…

    1) Putting extra blankets on your bed is great, but you also want to put an extra blanket or padding UNDER the sheets. This will help your body heat to reflect back to you – it’s AMAZING how well this works! Plus it’s a great use for old blankets of comforters that have stains or are too tattered to use on top.

    2) If your house has an attic fan or swamp cooler that isn’t used in the winter you can make it a LOT warmer inside by covering and insulating the vent. They make kits to do this, but I cobbled together something from stuff I had on hand. Even taping a piece of plastic over the vent will help – but something that will both trap air and block radiant heat is best. I made mine from an old blanket and a piece of mylar – plus some stick-on velcro that I had lying around.

    3) If you have drafty windows and don’t (ahem) have cats that will destroy plastic, you can make really simple indoor storm windows from plastic film stretched over a wooden frame (there are lots of videos on YouTube to show you how.) You cover both sides of the frame with plastic to trap air in the gap – so it works much better than a single layer of plastic, plus you can re-use them every year. I’ve made a few of these for the basement windows that the cats can’t reach and it made an enormous difference!

    4) This one is a bit off in crazy-land, but if you’re a bath person rather than a shower person (like I am) you can let the bath water sit in the tub after you’re done until it cools down to room temperature. No point in letting all that heat go down the drain! It also puts moisture back into the over-dry winter air. You do have to clean the tub more than you otherwise might, but I think it’s worth it.

    OK… that’s my crazy-lady list! I’ll also add (and then I promise I’ll stop) that adding extra attic insulation is a ridiculously easy DIY job. If you can access the attic and unroll a roll, you can do it! It will pay for itself over and over and over!

    • Jennifer

      Awesome tips! I bought a heated mattress pad thinking of the same concept but I think I will try putting a blanket under it to see if it helps hold the heat better. Thanks for the idea!

  • Rosemary Carstens

    OK, you motivated me! I got out the frogtape I bought last year and taped my one faulty/leaky window where cold air pours in because there is no way to completely shut it. I had put off the really minor chore day after day, but now it’s done. I use old towels at the bottom of doors to shut out those drafts (not so artsy, but effective)!

  • Thanks for the great tips. I do several of them already even though my friend laughs when I unplug the toaster. You have inspired me to check my windows for areas that may need caulked. Thank you.

    • Jennifer

      I have been unplugging my toaster, too. I started putting it in the cabinet when not in use and I can’t believe how much it opens up my counter space. Bonus!

  • Green Girls Don't Get Fat

    Not only will this save you money and help you to be ‘green’, but for many people, it can help lose or maintain weight.

    I wrote my own blog post about this well before I even read this article.

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