When winter chills get your teeth chattering, one way to stay warm--and save money on heating bills---is to throw on a pair of wool socks, some sweaters, winter boots and a hat, but who wants to do that while lounging at home? We certainly don't.
Therefore, we did some digging and came up with effective ways to help you maximize warmth and reduce your monthly expenditures.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that a typical U.S. household will spend less money on heating bills between October of this year and March of 2010 due to milder weather and lower cost of natural gas. The EIA's projected average of $960-although about 8 percent less than last winter's average of $1,044-is still quite high, especially in today's economy. And let's face it: many homeowners have already surpassed the amount in just two months.
In order to start saving money now, it is essential that you purchase a programmable thermostat and lower your temperature during the night and during the time you are usually out of the house. If your winter heating bill adds up to $960, that means that from mid-October to mid-March, you're paying about $192 a month. By turning down the heat about 10 degrees for eight hours each day, you will save around 10 percent on your heating bill, which translates to $19.20 a month or $96 a year. (For our experiment, we turned down the thermostat from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to 65 degrees, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) A programmable thermostat can cost you anywhere from $30-$150 at discounted prices. Let's say you spend $50 on the thermostat. Even after figuring in its cost, you'll still save about $46 on your heating bill your first year.
You can further decrease your heating bills with proper insulation. Although the best option is to insulate the walls of your home and start saving 50-60 percent on your monthly heating bill , the process generally requires a two to three-week renovation and costs approximately $2,000-$3,000, depending on the size of your home. Also, this is done to an owned property and since many of us live in rentals, it won't work for our experiment. However, you can still winterize your home with a bit of DIY work.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can reduce your home's heating costs by up to 30 percent through proper insulation and air sealing methods. First, hold a lit candle to windows and doors on a windy day to test for air leaks. If frosts, water condensation or drafts are present, then you can purchase a heavy-duty clear, plastic sheet and tape it to the inside of your windows. This will cost about $10, depending on the number and size of windows in your home. (I usually purchase a clear, polyethylene sheeting at Home Depot for $8.28 and 3M duct tape for $2, so my total comes out to $10.28.) In addition, make sure to keep your bedroom doors closed. You can put old towels or blankets at the bottom of your doors to keep out cold air.
After properly winterizing your home, you can lower the thermostat 5 more degrees to a comfortable temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In total, you will save $28.80 per month ($144 per year) by lowering the thermostat 15 degrees. Figuring in the cost of the thermostat ($50) and the cost of plastic sheeting and duct tape ($10.28), you will save $83.72 your first year.
You can also take a different approach, and lower the thermostat 10 more degrees instead of 5 and then use a space heater to warm up your bedroom to the aforementioned comfortable temperature.
There's no reason why you should have to warm up the entire house when you spend most of your night in only one or two rooms. Therefore, lowering the thermostat to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and purchasing an electric heater to warm up your bedroom(s) might be a better solution. At discount prices, space heaters can cost anywhere from $30 to $100. We recommend programmable space heaters so that they can shut off when the room reaches the desired temperature.
Let's say you spend $50 on a programmable, child-proof electric heater. If you run the programmable space heater in your bedroom for eight hours each night over a period of five months to heat up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit at a setting of 1500 watts, you will use approximately 11 kWh per night (depending how often the heater turns on and off during the night), or 326 kWh per month. At $0.10 per kWh, it would cost about $1 per night or $31 per month, to heat your home.
You will save $38.40 per month ($192 per year) by lowering the thermostat 20 degrees. Figuring in the cost of the thermostat ($50) and the cost of the space heater ($50), in addition to electricity costs for running a space heater each night over a period of five months, or 151 days ($151), you will actually pay $59 more for your heat the first year.
One major caveat is that if your room has air leaks, the space heater will be turned on longer and will run at a higher setting, thus eating up electricity; therefore, you'd still have to properly insulate your apartment before purchasing a space heater. Otherwise, it will work with only 60-70 percent efficiency, as a lot of heat will escape. That means, you'll be spending even more money than you intended.
Another caveat is that if you use more than one electric heater and they run on the same circuit breaker or if you have other heavy-duty electric appliances on the same circuit, you may trip the breakers when the space heaters are turned on at the same time.
Therefore, invest in a programmable thermostat and winterize your home prior to considering the purchase of a space heater, and watch the savings pile up.