Save Money, Reduce Energy Use | Insulate Now Before Cold Weather Arrives

One of my favorite side benefits of living green is saving money. Looking up from my modest energy bill to gaze upon my tidily hung washing, riding my bike past the gas station where other people are filling their gas tanks with $4 a gallon gas, and even the 5¢ credit I get for each reusable bag I bring to the grocery store—they all give me a little thrill. Now, as colder weather approaches, I am starting to think of ways I can conserve energy, save money, and stay warm. Here are a few ideas.

It’s Obvious: Insulate

Heat rises, so check your attic insulation. Anywhere from 11 to 15 inches is recommended for Iowa’s climate. If you can see your ceiling joists, you need more insulation. Up to a third of a home’s heat is lost through the walls. Have insulation blown into your walls if they need it. Also seal and insulate any accessible heating ducts.

Seal Your House

Your home loses a lot of heat through those big holes in the walls known as windows and doors, as much as 25 percent, so caulk and weather-strip them. Hang curtains with a thermal lining over all your windows; open them during the day to let the sunshine warm your house and close them at night to keep out the cold. Plastic window kits can also significantly reduce heat loss but will result in a lot of plastic to be disposed of in the spring when you want to open all your windows again. Seal any other cracks or holes in the interior or exterior of your house with spray foam or caulk.

Put On A Sweater

Heating can account for over half of a home’s energy bill. One of the simplest ways you can save energy is to turn down the heat. Some people recommend lowering your heat down to 68º F. I say go even lower. There’s no need to spend the winter freezing and miserable, but if you can be comfortable in your home without long underwear, thick socks, slippers, and a heavy sweater, then your thermostat is set too high. And if there is no one home, or you are sleeping, you can turn the heat down even further. For every degree you turn down your thermostat, you can save 1 percent on your heating bill. A programmable thermostat will make adjusting the temperature around your family’s schedule easy. Having your furnace serviced once a year and changing your air filter as needed can lower your heating bill, too, since a clean and properly functioning furnace heats more efficiently. Keep all heating vents and air returns clear of furniture and rugs that might hinder air flow.

Replace Your Bulbs

As the days grow shorter, we will turn the lights on more. Lighting can account for 20 percent of your home’s electricity use. Now is the time to replace your remaining incandescent bulbs with CFLs, which use 75 percent less energy than conventional bulbs. Alliant Energy offers a rebate for each CFL bulb that you buy. And don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave a room.

Hot Water

Use less energy heating water by turning your hot water heater down to 120º F and putting an insulating foam blanket on older water heaters. Use less hot water by taking shorter showers and washing clothes in cold water.

Be Safe

A tightly sealed house needs adequate ventilation to keep the indoor air healthy and breathable. If your heating system does not bring in fresh air, consider cracking a few windows for a few minutes a couple of times a day to air out your house. Also, you should install a carbon monoxide detector in addition to your smoke detectors. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in the basement or somewhere else that is lower than the beds.

Keep Up The Good Work

Continue doing all the things you are already doing to conserve energy, like hanging your laundry to dry inside (it will add much needed moisture to the dry winter air), keeping any vampire electronics (those that use energy even when they are “off”) on a power strip that you can switch off when you are not using them. And as the colder weather makes walking and biking places more difficult, consider taking the bus where public transportation is available or carpooling and doing a week’s worth of errands all at once to minimize your driving.

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