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Heating hacks to keep you from going broke this winter

Susannah Shmurak

Money is escaping through these holes in your house.

Temperatures are dropping, your heat’s running and your bank account has started to feel the pain of heating season. Don’t throw away hundreds of dollars again this winter! Some simple steps will keep the heat where it belongs: warming your family — not your neighborhood.

You don’t need any special skills to make these minor improvements to your home’s efficiency. They take very little time or effort. A few simple items from the hardware store can help you keep in your heat this winter.

Some easy-peasy, anyone-can-do mini-projects to save your energy bucks.

Seal up your outlets

Your electrical outlets can account for up to twenty percent of your heat loss. For just a few dollars, you can pick up foam outlet sealers that help stop airflow and keep all that heat in your house.

How to: Count up all the outlets and electrical switches on exterior walls only (heat will not be escaping on the interior ones). Take note of the places you have double or triple switches that need insulating, and look for specially-designed sealers or use multiples. All you need is a screwdriver to take off the outlet or switch plate. Simply place the foam sealer behind it and put the plate back.

Simpler still: While you’re shopping, pick up some outlet covers (usually used for child-proofing). Plug up all your exterior outlets and keep your warm air from escaping through those holes.

Cover your windows: Replacing older windows can be costly, but covering them is a snap. You can use plastic insulating kitsinterior storm windows and/or thermal window coverings to keep in your warm air, especially at night. Draw curtains when the sun goes down to keep in heat, but open them when the sun shines to get free solar heating.

Turn down the thermostat

If you routinely heat to 75 degrees, you could save over 20 percent on heating by keeping things at a comfortable 68 degrees instead. Does your family usually wear thin cotton clothes all year round? Get everyone used to dressing appropriately, with thicker clothing made from warmer materials like wool or fleece, when temperatures drop. Turn down the thermostat at night when everyone’s tucked cozily under blankets, as well as when no one’s home to care if it’s a bit chilly. Consider installing

programmable thermostatto help make sure you’re not wasting energy on heat when no one needs it.

Want to get everyone on board with a cooler house? Explain how saving heat means more money for other things or how it will help shrink your household’s environmental footprint. If you’re not used to cooler inside temps, don’t worry — you adjust quickly.

Bonus: cooler temperatures are great for your metabolism, making it run more to keep you warm.

Other easy ways to save on your heating bill

  • Heat only where you need to. If everyone’s in one room, you might set your thermostat lower but use a space heater to keep everyone comfortable.
  • Make sure to change your furnace filter every three months, and get your furnace tuned up annually to make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible.
  • Stick a draft blocker under doors to help keep out the cold.
  • If you’re comfortable using a caulk gun, get outside and start sealing up any cracks you find.

When you’re ready, consider investing in some efficiency upgrades that will pay for themselves and save you lots more over the long run. Start with an energy audit, then look into beefing up your home’s insulation. When it’s time to replace your furnace, choose a more efficient one (or look into alternative heating systems, like heat pumps).

Susannah Shmurak shares practical, money-saving tips about gardening, food and low-impact living on her blog,

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