Sneaky Ways to Cut Your Fuel Bill
26 ways your family can save money this winter while still staying cozy.
Everything In This Slideshow
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Make this effort a cozy family affair: If everyone wears an extra sweater or sweatshirt (even the small fry), you can turn down the thermostat. And that means a smaller heating bill.
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Let There Be (Less) Light
Make "Turn Off the Lights!" your rallying cry. Each family member is responsible for turning off lights when he or she leaves a room. Install dimmer switches in the kitchen and dining room, where dim lights are a benefit; they add ambience for meals and entertaining while saving energy. Use sensors to turn outside lights on only when needed.
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Fill the Freezer
A full freezer uses less energy than an empty one. (Finally—a good excuse to buy ice cream!) Bulk up the freezer for less by buying—or growing—large quantities of fresh vegetables and then freezing them.
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Choose the right size pot or pan for the job and you'll save energy. Large pans require more energy to heat than small ones so make sure you need that large pot before you fill it up and turn it on. If you're boiling water, place a lid on the pot to prevent heat and energy from escaping.
Baking your favorite cake? Avoid opening the oven door while it's in use. When you open the door the temperature can drop anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That means it takes longer for the cake to finish baking (and requires more energy).
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Many electronics continue to draw power after you turn them off. You'll know because you'll still see a glowing LED (light emitting diode) after you flip the switch. Your TV, cell phone charger, and printer are likely culprits. Make it easier to turn off those energy vampires by plugging them into power strips instead of wall sockets. That way, you need flip the switch only once to cut the flow of electricity to everything plugged into the strip.
Get in the habit of activating your computer's sleep mode if you don't want to turn it completely off. This action can save $25 to $75 per year in energy costs.
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Light Up the Season (the Right Way)
Christmas lights left on 24 hours a day can quadruple your energy bill. Put lighting displays on a timer to make sure they're not on all night. When light strands wear out, replace them with LED versions, which use 90 percent less energy than standard mini-lights.
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Do a Lightbulb Swap
Installing compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) is one of the quickest, easiest ways to save energy—and money. Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFLs convert most of the energy they use into light, rather than heat. They consume about 75 percent less electricity and last up to 10 times longer.
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Limit the Dryer
This solution works best if you own a front-loading washer that spins clothes almost dry. Then hang the clothes outside to dry in the summer or on an inside clothesline or wooden drying rack (attic or basement) in the winter.
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Cool in Reverse
You probably know that using a ceiling fan can keep your family cooler in the summer. But ceiling fans help in winter too. Most fans include a switch that lets you reverse the motor so that the blades turn clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. Warm air rises, and the clockwise rotation of the blades forces the warm air down to where your family can benefit.
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Fill It Up
Most of the energy consumed by washers goes toward heating the water—about 90 percent in the clothes washer and 80 percent in the dishwasher. So whenever you wash just a few clothes or dishes at a time, you're wasting power and money. Combining half loads, choosing short cycles, and using cold or warm rather than hot water for clothes rack up savings.
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Use a programmable thermostat to control the temperature in your home automatically. This allows you to set the temperature at a comfortable level when you're in the house and cut it back to a cooler level when you're at work. A top-of-the-line unit provides a seven-day menu with four program periods a day. A more inexpensive model offers one schedule for weekdays and another for weekends.
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When furnace filters become clogged with dust, the furnace doesn't operate efficiently and your energy bill goes up. So buy enough filters to see you through the winter months and change them monthly (or as recommended by the manufacturer).
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Stop the Drafts
Close the fireplace damper when it's not being used to prevent warm air from escaping through the chimney. Even better: Install a glass door to help make the fireplace more airtight. Check your dryer-vent cap to make sure it closes tightly when not being used; this keeps cold air from entering the house.
Editor's Tip: If your fireplace uses an installed gas log, you'll need to keep the damper open at all times to vent carbon monoxide to the outside.
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Plug the Gaps
About 30 percent of the cold air that leaks into your home comes through holes where pipes, vents, or electrical conduits run through the walls, ceiling, and floors. Check under sinks in the kitchen and bathroom and in the basement for gaps around pipes. Fill them in with an insulating foam sealant. Seal small gaps with caulk.
Editor's Tip: Even though only 2 percent of air leakage is through electrical outlets and switch plates, every little bit counts. Backing outlets with foam insulators is easy and inexpensive.
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Make Windows Airtight
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 10 percent of the air that leaks out of a house exits through the windows. Caulk around window frames and apply weather stripping between the sash and window frame to eliminate air leakage. Tension seal and magnetic types of weather stripping are durable and effective for double-hung windows. For casement and sliding windows, apply self-adhesive V-strip weather stripping to the side of a clean, dry sash or window jamb.
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Go with Storms
Install storm windows to reduce air leakage year-round. You can find storm windows with vinyl, wood, or aluminum frames and glass or plastic panes. Glass is heavier but longer lasting and clearer than plastic, which scratches easily and yellows.
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Wrapping your water heater can reduce standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent, lowering the amount of money you pay on heating water.
NOTE: Not all water heaters require blankets. Check your manufacturer's website for more information.
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Wrap Your Pipes
Use precut foam insulation to wrap the exposed pipes coming from your water heater. It's cheap and easy to install. Check hardware stores for these foam tubes, which have a slit on one side. Just cut the tube to the length you need.
Editor's Tip: If you have a gas model or boiler, don't use foam wrap near the flue. Instead use unfaced fiberglass pipe wrap. Secure with foil tape or wire.
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Keep the Heat In
Add fiberglass insulation to the attic floor and house walls and save up to 30 percent on your heating and cooling costs. The cost of adding insulation in the outside walls, attic, and/or basement will be offset by savings on energy bills over several years.
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Look for the Energy Star
Lower your energy bill by being a smart shopper. When it's time to replace a major household appliance, choose a product with an Energy Star label, which means that the product is energy efficient.
You may even be eligible for a tax credit when you purchase an Energy Star product. Get more information at energystar.gov.
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Heat Water When You Need It
Heating water gobbles 13 percent of the energy budget in a typical home. A tankless heater, usually powered by natural gas or electricity, provides hot water only when you need it. That requires less energy, so you save money.
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Replace Your Furnace
As much as half the energy bill in a typical single-family home goes toward heating and cooling expenses. The biggest culprits: a furnace or boiler that's more than 15 years old, or a heat pump or air conditioner that's more than 12 years old (DS). You may want to consider replacing these dinosaurs with new energy-efficient equipment.
Editor's Tip: You can make your existing system more efficient by scheduling an annual tune-up with an HVAC professional.
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Buy Energy-Efficient Windows
Today's windows and doors are more energy-efficient than their creaky ancestors. Low-E glass helps keep heat inside in winter and outside in summer. That's because it has a coating that reduces thermal heat transfer. Warm edge spacers reduce heat flow and prevent condensation. Better insulation and improved weather stripping add to the energy efficiency of today's new doors.
Editor's Tip: Not ready to replace? Make your existing windows more efficient by installing insulating coverings, such as cellular shades, curtain panels with interlinings, and window films.
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Get an Energy Audit
It's easier to save energy when you know exactly how much and where you're using it. Investing in a two-hour home audit pays off with a list of things you can do to lower consumption. The fixes can be low-tech (e.g., foam insulation) or show that you need to replace your furnace. Your ultimate savings will depend upon the condition of your house, climate, energy costs, and lifestyle.