We warm-blooded creatures have the ability to maintain our body temperatures. But when the weather turns cold, our bodies have to work hard. Coming back to a warm, cosy home each day and staying that way does wonders to our well-being. And this need not be expensive. This article will guide you through the ways to save on heating costs in your home and reduce your electric bills this winter.
How is Indoor Heating achieved?
Understanding your current indoor heating is the first step to making meaningful changes. Indoor heating can be achieved through central heating, space heating, or both.
In central heating, heat is commonly generated by one of the following:
- Mains gas (usually natural gas)
- Fuel oil
- Liquefied petroleum gas (most commonly propane or butane)
- Solid fuel
- Biomass (wood pellets or wood chips)
Except for mains gas and electricity, all other options require fuel storage in your home. Natural gas through mains is usually the most efficient, and combined with the convenience of obtaining it through gas mains may be why most American households use it.
The generated heat is then distributed to multiple areas of the house
- by forced-air through ductwork
- by water circulating through pipes
- by steam fed through pipes
In contrast, space heaters are devices used to heat only a single, small space. These mainly supplement the main heating system in your home. Space heaters can be fueled either by electricity, or by combustion of flammable fuel.
How To reduce your heating costs
Heating systems and fuel types play a big role, but a major overhaul may not be practical. Don’t fret! The best ways to save energy and money are much simpler. Here we’ll share with you how you can do this, starting from today.
Lower the thermostat
Keep your thermostat at 68 deg F (20 deg C) in the day and around 55 – 60 deg F (13 – 16 deg C) at night. You’re warm and toasty in bed anyway! This simple change can save you approximately 10% on your heating bill. While it seems logical to reduce the thermostat setting as often as possible, avoid lowering more than 10 degrees if it’s only for a few short hours. That’s because it’ll cost you more energy to get your home heated up again.
Dress for cold weather
This is an easy one – simply put on some extra layers! Each person in the family is going to feel differently about the set temperature (we do hear of thermostat wars). Layering is the smarter way to save money and avoid conflict, since each member is able to get comfortable independently. Also, layering isn’t just about comfort. It’s a great way to make your most basic clothes look stylish. Who says you shouldn’t look good while cosying up at home?
Eliminate drafts / seal the leaks
It’s futile to produce heat if you are constantly losing it. Walk around your house with your hands wet to easily discern areas with the worst draft. Seal the gaps around windows, and don’t forget the doors too. Cover the attic door if you have one. Look out for drafty holes – around electrical sockets, from non-working fireplaces, floorboards, pipework, and near the plumbing under the kitchen sink. You’ll be surprised to learn how “leaky” your home was!
Make use of the sun
Get your compass out. You can gain heat from south-facing windows in winter, when the sun is lower in the sky. Open your south-facing curtains or blinds in the day to maximise heat gain. Do keep the remaining curtains closed to limit drafts. At night, close the curtains to keep the warm air in your home.
Use rugs generously. When you enter a cold place, blood vessels in the extremities (feet, hands) will constrict. This restricts blood flow to these areas, and is just your body’s way of reducing the amount of heat you lose. It’s impressive our bodies can do all that. But knowing your body is working well is little comfort to those cold feet. Rugs take the bite off when you have to move around. They are also great for the gaps under your doors. If you need double insulation, place a rug pad under your rug.
Circulate air upwards
You learnt in school that “hot air rises while cold air sinks”. Use this knowledge to your advantage. If you put your ceiling fans in reverse mode, it circulates colder air upwards. This then pushes warm air trapped near the ceiling back down to the room. A low setting is all that’s required, and it won’t cost much. If you don’t have a ceiling fan, carefully-angled ground fans also do the job.
Optimise what you have
Proper use and maintenance of your existing equipment will give you maximum bang for your buck. Clean your vents and radiators well ahead of the coldest months. Keep them clear so they can deliver that heat to you (instead of warming the furniture or other belongings). Change filters from your furnace / heat pump regularly – dirty filters make your equipment work harder and drive up that bill. If you use a radiator, consider fitting a radiator reflector panel. This thin sheet applied to the wall behind reduces heat loss by reflecting radiant heat away from the wall.
Minor Home Alterations
Use programmable thermostats
Time your heating, then take the thinking out of temperature control. You don’t need your home warm when you’re at work or sleeping. And actually, different rooms can be heated differently. Consider radiator valves in combination with separate thermostats to zone your rooms.
Buy space heaters to spot-heat zones that are in use
Space heaters are excellent for keeping specific areas warm. They’re a great quick fix if you aren’t able to overhaul your central heating system or lack one. It’s important to first decide on the strength and size of the heater. Something powerful is of course desirable, but it shouldn’t be too noisy. Portability may be another factor to consider, so a single piece of equipment may serve multiple locations.
Safety features are critical for peace of mind. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests keeping anything that can burn 3 feet away from your space heater. Switch it off when not in use. It’s probably also wise to limit your selection to heaters with in-built safety features. Timed space heaters (turning off after 1 – 4 hours) may be safer than manually-operated ones. Also, those that switch off automatically when tipped over / overheated are good options.
Another way to improve efficiency of the space heaters is to size them properly for the room it is used in. This will significantly reduce energy wastage from inappropriate heating and will result in great cost savings.
If you are not sure how to size your space heaters, you can make use of our Space Heater Sizing Calculator to determine the exact wattage you need for your room.
Use a humidifier
Moist air holds onto heat better and keeps you feeling warm longer. Moisture in the house during the chilly months keeps your heating bill manageable. As a side bonus, you also reduce that annoying static electricity!
Improve / fit extra curtains
Good quality, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains protect you from drafts and heat loss. Consider upgrading your curtains if yours are worn, or fix extra layers over lighter ones.
Install plastic window treatments
This quick DIY tip can solve your problem of drafty windows with only minor cost. This really is just a sheet of plastic sealed over your window to take care of any leaks. For added protection, you can also add a layer of bubble wrap between the window and plastic sheet. You won’t be able to see through your window after that, but it’s ideal for older windows in places you rarely frequent.
Many devices are available to improve efficiency of central heating systems. These are generally simple to install and can be quick solutions to otherwise costly overhauls. Air vent boosters increase airflow coming from your central heat and air conditioning systems.
A radiator booster is a simple device attached to the top of your radiator. It’s equipped with a tiny fan and disperses all the warm air trapped behind your radiator. This improves the effectiveness of your central heating radiators.
More major home alterations
Fit windows with double or triple glazing
As you have guessed, double-glazed windows are made up of 2 panes of glass while triple-glazed ones have 3 panes. Triple glazing provides 40% greater thermal efficiency than double-glazing. These are both improvements over the standard single-paned window. These windows are also more durable, rigid, resistant to condensation and sound transmission – perfect if there’s a busy street right outside. However, both material and installation costs are higher. The extra weight and thickness can also limit opening of the window. Lastly, it may make little sense to have these installed if wall insulation is non-existent or compromised.
Good insulation keeps temperatures how you want it to be. In summer, you want to keep the hot air out of your home, and in winter you want to keep the warm air in. Insulation lasts 20 – 80 years, depending on the type that you already have installed. But, it could deteriorate and some conditions may bring forward your replacement. A leak in your roof, for instance, could wet your insulation and set the conditions for mold. In general, we recommend an insulation check yearly by a professional.
There are many types of insulation materials. Bulky fibre materials (fibreglass, mineral wool, cellulose, and natural fibres [cotton, sheep wool, straw, hemp]) resist conduction of heat. Rigid foam boards trap air to reduce heat flow. All options will work. Consider factors such as your decision to have work done DIY, where your home is, or whether your home is in the midst of construction / re-construction. If resources are limited, prioritise your insulation by insulating from roof down to your foundation.
Change old heating units
An overhaul of your existing HVAC system may seem intimidating, but persistent problems are better off addressed holistically. The Department of Energy recommends a replacement every 10 to 15 years. And for good reason – all things deteriorate over time. An updated system is often technologically more efficient and better for the environment. Look out for signs such as a rising energy bill, unusual sounds, and temperature inconsistencies. A safe and efficient heating system to consider would be heat pumps. According to Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships,
switching from fuel-based heating to air-source heat pumps saves the
average homeowner between $300 and $900 a year.
Change your flooring
Walking barefoot in a cold room can’t be comfortable and we have a solution. All you need is a new floor. Yes, it sounds crazy to rip out what you have now. But if you find yourself with such an opportunity, consider our top 3 flooring options for cold rooms.
Vinyl flooring is 100% waterproof. It’s our go-to option for areas where dampness can’t be avoided, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Vinyl, polyvinyl chloride resin or “PVC”, is a synthetic man-made plastic material made from combining ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in regular salt). Very little maintenance is required of this material. But, because it’s a thin material installed directly over concrete, it can feel hard and cold. That’s why Luxury Vinyl Flooring came into the picture. Luxury Vinyl is roughly 5 times as thick as standard vinyl, due to the multiple layers built into the product. Those with cork or foam underlayment layers built in feel softer and warmer to your feet. Compared to ceramic or stone that can feel like a cold graveyard in winter, luxury vinyl flooring is an economical yet significant upgrade for your foot comfort.
Carpet is the instinctive choice for most people. There’s a wide range of thicknesses, colours, styles and prices. Maintenance may be a bit of a problem especially in the hotter and wetter months. But there’s no denying that a thick carpet gives you that additional feeling of cosiness when you most need it.
Cork is an amazing flooring option – it’s soft, hypoallergenic, eco-friendly and it insulates well. Made from the same tree bark used for manufacturing wine corks, this natural flooring material is full of air bubbles. Both the wood and air are great for trapping heat. Cork tiles are usually bonded to the subfloor with an adhesive. After laying, the tiles are lightly sanded to ensure evenness. Sealing of the tiles (e.g. with polyurethane) gives this flooring a moderate degree of water-resistance – similar to sealed hardwood. Basic maintenance includes regular vacuuming and use of only a mildly-damp mop. Pooling of water should be avoided as this can penetrate the material and damage the adhesion / subfloor. The sealant can be reapplied every 5 years to maintain protection against stains and moisture. No doubt, this is a higher-maintenance option than the usual tile or vinyl. However, as long as you’re aware of the minor limitations, cork does very well for your other needs!
Fulfilling your heating needs can be a complex endeavor and figuring things out on your own may prove insufficient. It’s good to have a yearly HVAC check-up and energy audit, so a professional can give you customised advice for your specific circumstances. You may also want to check out your local energy suppliers. Switch to a cheaper one if it’s available!
Winter is beautiful but it can also be hard. We hope you’ll be able to keep warm without sweating over that bill with these practical tips. Let us know if we missed anything!