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11 ways to save energy (and money) this winter

Man on large snow bank next to power lines.

Don’t get buried by electric or natural gas bills this winter.

In CUB’s recent statewide campaign promoting energy efficiency, one of our messages was that efficiency has always been about making your home more comfortable, but using less energy.

Now that federal experts have predicted Midwest natural gas bills will jump by 13 percent compared with last winter, it’s time to develop a cold-weather plan for your home. We hope these tips help:

  • Nest thermostat

    A Nest programmable thermostat can cut your heating and cooling bills by 20 percent—and look good doing it.

    Buy a programmable thermostat. It will automatically adjust your home’s temperature at certain times of the day. You can save up to 3 percent on your heating bill for each degree that you lower the thermostat. (Some experts recommend turning down your thermostat by 10 degrees at night or when nobody’s home. But use good judgment. Never turn your heat off completely, or so low that it’s a hazard to your health or your water pipes!)

  • Don’t make your heating system work harder than it has to. Close doors to rooms you’re not using. Close blinds as an extra layer of protection against icy night winds. But open them during the day so sunlight can help heat your home.
  • Reduce the drafts. Weatherstrip doors, caulk windows and use storm windows if you’ve got them. A door guard or sweep will block cold air from sneaking into your home from beneath the front and back doors. (Also, if you have a fireplace, make sure to close the damper after you’re done using it, so the warm air doesn’t escape out the chimney—taking your money with it!)
  • Doors and windows aren’t the only source of drafts. Search for air leaks in recessed lighting, fans, vents that go through walls, and plumbing pipes underneath the sinks.
  • Make sure your home is well-insulated. The easiest place to start is the attic. Quick tip: If the insulation is even with or below the attic floor joists, think about adding more.
  • Water heater blanketSet your water heater to 120 degrees (warm setting), and cover it with an insulating blanket you can purchase at a hardware store.
  • Clear radiators, registers, air returns and baseboards of dust and make sure carpet or furniture isn’t blocking them. You can’t heat your home if the air isn’t circulating.
  • For a forced-air system, check the air filter regularly, and change it every three months—or when it’s dirty. Have a trained technician check your heating and cooling system regularly.
  • Circulate the heat with the help of a ceiling fan. In the winter, run the fan clockwise (from your position, looking up at it) to pull warm air down from the ceiling. Just make sure to turn off the fan when you leave the room.
  • Use Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) or LED bulbs throughout your house. For the porch, consider an Energy Star-qualified outdoor fixture that has a motion sensor and/or a photocell that turns the light on only when someone is present or depending on whether it’s night or morning. 
  • Check out energy efficiency programs offered by your electric or gas utility.CUB analysis found that Illinois consumers could save up to $37 million a year, thanks to efficiency incentives offered by utility companies. Read CUB’s guide on those incentives.

For more information, download Energy Star’s “A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling,” and sign up for CUB Energy Saver, our free online tool that’s filled with actions you can take at home to cut electric and natural gas bills by an average of $100 a year.