When cold weather arrives, the cash-strapped and the frugal-minded often think of the skyrocketing energy bills that can come with heating a home. Fortunately, there are many things you can do yourself, easily and inexpensively, to put a dent in that bill (plus a few others that you'll need to hire a professional for, but that will pay off over time). In this article, we'll share some ideas for winterizing your home, whether you rent or own.

3 Money-Saving Tips for Everyone
Even if you're a renter and don't have the liberty to make significant changes to your home, there are a few things you can do to decrease your winter energy bills.

  1. Change your furnace filter. Over time, your furnace filter becomes clogged with dust and dirt. When this happens, your furnace becomes less efficient, demanding it to run longer to heat your house and increasing your energy bill. A basic furnace filter only costs a couple bucks and takes a few minutes to replace.
  2. Caulk windows shut with removable caulk.If you've already caulked sufficiently around the edges of your windows and you can still feel air seeping in, try using removable caulk to seal your windows shut. When you want to open your windows again, you can easily peel it off. (Learn about a financial instrument that makes temperature a tradable commodity, see Introduction To Weather Derivatives.)
  3. Replace incandescent and halogen light bulbs with compact fluorescents. According to the U.S. Government's Energy Star website, 20% of a household's energy bill comes from lighting, and a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) certified by Energy Star uses about 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb is comparable to a 13-15 watt CFL. It's recommended to use these bulbs in light fixtures that are used for at least fifteen minutes at a time. In winter, days are shorter and people tend to use their light fixtures more, so switching to CFL bulbs can help compensate for the increased energy usage and prevent a spike in your bill. (The average family spends $1,600/year on utility bills - find out how to put some of that back in your wallet, read Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money.)

6 Additional Money-Saving Tips For Homeowners
Because those who own a single-family residence have more control over altering their dwellings, they have additional options for decreasing winter energy bills.

  1. Get a home energy audit. An energy audit will give you an idea of how you can improve your home's energy efficiency and decrease your energy bills. While you can have a professional perform this service for you, the expense may not outweigh the savings. Luckily, some utility companies offer this service for free. If yours doesn't, you can do an audit yourself using the Energy Star website's Home Energy Yardstick, which compares your household's energy use to similar households nationwide and recommends things you can do to improve your energy usage. You just need your last 12 months' energy bills (if you don't have them, you may be able to look them up online or order a record from your energy provider) and some basic information about your home. (Find out how to reduce your costs with these inexpensive tips, see 6 Ways To Save On Your Utility Bill.)
  2. Add insulation to your attic. If the insulation in your attic doesn't cover the floor joists, you probably need more to help prevent heat from escaping through your roof. You can add more of the same type of insulation you already have, or a different kind. Check the R-value, which measures the insulation's performance, when deciding which product to buy. Also, if you're handy, choose a product you can install yourself to avoid incurring installation costs. Just make sure to get some basic guidance from the home improvement store or a reliable book since some types of insulation need to be covered with drywall or another fireproof material.
  3. Add weatherstripping. When added to windows and doors, weatherstripping can help keep out drafts so your house stays warmer and you don't need to run your heater as much. Your local home improvement store probably sells a complete weatherstripping kit that contains everything you need to complete the job yourself.
  4. Replace your old furnace with a new, energy-efficient one. If your furnace is over 10 years old and is not operating efficiently anymore, your monthly heating bills may be higher than necessary. Consider replacing it with a new, Energy Star certified model. The up-front cost can pay off over time through the decrease in your annual heating bills. Also, some utility companies offer rebates to help people purchase energy-efficient home upgrades. Before making a purchase, see if your utility company will help defray the cost, and if so, make sure to buy a qualifying model. (Upgrading household appliances to more energy-efficient models can slash your utilities bill, read Home Energy Savings Add Up.)
  5. Get a digital, programmable thermostat. This device can automatically reduce heat usage in your home during times when you don't need it as much, such as when you are sleeping. You can set it to be at one temperature when you get out of bed in the morning, another an hour later when you leave and while you're away all day, another when you come home and another when you go to bed and while you sleep all night. Of course, you can accomplish the same thing yourself by turning your furnace on and off, but if you're the forgetful type, a digital, programmable model can save you money (for example, you won't leave the furnace accidentally running all day while you're at work).
  6. Have ducts checked for leaks. If your home uses a forced air heating system, the air in your home is distributed through large tubes called ducts. If the ducts are poorly connected or insufficiently insulated, the air you're paying to heat with your furnace can leak out - that's money wasted. Having your ducts sealed can improve your home's energy efficiency. In some cases you can do this job yourself, but in others (for example, if you have asbestos insulation, or if the ducts are located in areas you cannot easily access, like in walls or ceilings) you'll be better off hiring a professional. (Don't put the sale of your home at risk by committing one of these dirty deeds, learn more in 12 Worst First-Time Homeseller Mistakes.)

Conclusion
Make sure to weigh the time and cost of making improvements against the potential savings, when making energy-related home improvements. Then, start with the areas that will give you the biggest savings and work your way down the list. (For more you might want to check out Save Money On Summer Bills.)

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