10 Free (or Nearly Free) Ways to Save Money on Heat and Hot Water

It’s likely to cost more to heat your home this winter, and with oil, natural gas and electricity prices forecast to rise in the coming months, millions of Americans will surely be looking for ways to save.

While smart lightbulbs, low-flow showerheads, smart thermostats, and other energy-saving gadgets help lower your electric bills, tweaking some of your daily habits can also lower them — from a few dollars a month to a few hundred dollars a year — often with little to no upfront investment. You’ve probably been teased by a loved one to turn off the light when you leave a room, but here Wirecutter experts offer several other painless (and often free) suggestions that will ease the strain on your monthly bills.

1. Strategically open and close curtains, shades, and blinds

Don’t leave your windows untouched! A Department of Energy study found that “75% of residential window coverings remain in the same position every day,” representing missed opportunities to conserve home heating and harness the heat of the sun. Make a habit of opening window shades in the morning (especially where you get direct sunlight) to let as much sun into your home as possible, says Jon Chase, editor of our smart home coverage. As late afternoon rolls in, close drapes and blinds to keep the heat in.

Regularly removing dirt, dust, and grime from your window panes is an easy way to let in more light (and therefore more heat) during the day.

2. Dealing with draughty windows and doors

Installing weatherstripping around door frames or replacing old, cracked, or improperly hung windows can improve your home’s insulation, but it can be expensive and time-consuming. We recommend double-cell blackout blinds as an easy way to insulate windows, but it’s fine if you want to get the job done with a few cheap shortcuts instead. Staff writer and Boston resident Thom Dunn recommends the “classic New England move” of using a hair dryer to shrink plastic wrap over the gaps on your windows. Lead author Rachel Wharton tucks folded towels or blankets onto window sills and bottom edges of doors.

3. Keep windows clean and remove screens

Who forgets to clean the windows when cleaning the house? (Most people, most likely.) Jon finds that regularly removing dirt, dust, and grime from your window panes is an easy way to let in more light (and therefore more heat) during the day. Another seasonal chore not to be skipped: remove your window screens by spring; Some evidence suggests that they block significant amounts of passive solar heat from entering your home.

4. Cook with kitchen appliances

“If you already own smaller appliances like a toaster oven, air fryer, rice cooker, or an electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot, you might want to consider using them instead of your larger electric oven or range for specific tasks,” says Marilyn Ong, senior editor for kitchen coverage. “For example, reheating food in a toaster instead of a full oven saves preheating all that extra space. And pressure-cooking a stew in an Instant Pot for an hour uses less electricity than simmering something on the stovetop for hours.” (The energy savings compared to gas ranges or an oven are more difficult to measure given the relative costs of the two energy sources may vary from region to region.) The Department of Energy reports that convection ovens and toasters use “one-third to one-half the power of a full-size [electric] Oven,” and they recommend “using the microwave oven when possible,” as well as a kettle for boiling water, noting that it “uses faster and less energy” than letting your giant kettle do the work.

5. Use a space heater (wisely and not too much)

Infrared technology in space heaters is designed to heat people and objects, not the room, so they’re best used as a spot treatment for situations like fighting off a cold in a drafty home office.

“They work most efficiently when aimed at one or two people in a smaller area,” says Thom, who co-wrote our guide to the best space heaters. “Place the space heaters so they face straight at you and close the doors to keep the warm air inside.”

Still, Thom advises against running a space heater for a full day because of the expense — nonprofit utility service Silicon Valley Power has estimated that running a parking heater just during work hours adds $30 to $40 to your monthly electric bill (PDF). can – so don’t use it for more than a few hours at a time in conjunction with window insulation, solar heat and extra layers of clothing. And if you really feel you need one to warm up a large room for a long time, consider an oil-filled radiator, which warms the room with a gradual radiant heat that lasts even after the heat is turned off. Thom also points out that many space heaters these days come with timers so they can turn off automatically, saving you money and, more importantly, keeping you safe.

6. Lower the temperature on your water heater

The next time you are near your water heater, take two minutes to check and possibly adjust the temperature. “Water heaters are often set very high: 140°F or sometimes much higher,” explains Jon. “Then a mixer lowers the water temperature before sending it to your various fixtures. Anything 120°F or higher can cause scalding.” (Water for a bath is usually around 100°F.) You can sort of cut out the middle man by manually lowering the temperature. If you keep the temperature around or just above 120°F, you’re still getting “lots of hot water,” he adds, “but you save drastically.” Don’t dive below 120°F, or you risk killing the bacteria , which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, fester.

This one adjustment can save a household more than $400 annually in daily water heating costs, according to the Department of Energy, plus an additional $36 to $61 per year in “standby heat losses.” Jon says: “This is actually a double game. You save by not having to heat the water stored in your hot water tank, which saves a modest amount — up to $30 a month for every 10 degrees you lower the water temperature. But then there are the savings of not heating the water for all your fixtures and appliances: dishwashers and laundry, and of course baths and showers.” (The Department of Energy has a short, helpful video that takes you step-by-step by changing the temperature of your water heater and indicates some health concerns, such as respiratory or immune system issues, which might make it more advisable for some households to keep the temperature at 140°F.)

7. Wash clothes in warm water

Switching from hot to warm water in your washing machine can cut the energy use of a wash in half, the Department of Energy says — and cold or warm water is almost always better for your clothes anyway. “Hot water can generally tackle really dirty clothes better than cold water, but it can also degrade fabrics – especially performance fabrics – over time,” explains Ingrid Skjong, senior editor on our home appliances team. “Cold can usually do the trick.”

8. Vacuum fan grates

If your home is convection heated, vacuum the intake register covers, which are usually on the floor or along your baseboards and can become clogged with dust or pet hair over time. Better airflow prevents warm air from being trapped in the ventilation, allowing it to go where you actually need it. You can vacuum the inlet register covers with a handheld vacuum or a hose attachment on a canister vacuum – whichever is easiest for you.

9. Instead of cranking up the thermostat at night, add more bedding

Shivering in bed is an absolutely miserable experience, but fresher air (around 60 to 67°F) actually helps lower your core temperature (aka internal temperature), which is part of the body’s natural sleep cycle. In fact, lowering your core body temperature has been shown to help you fall asleep faster. If you have forced ventilation, lowering the thermostat 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for 8 hours each night will cut about 10% of your heating bills, according to the Department of Energy. (But if you have an electric baseboard heater, steam heater, radiant heater, or heat pump, federal agencies advise that resetting the thermostat is unlikely to result in savings.)

Regardless of what type of heater you have, we recommend using bedding instead of your thermostat for comfort. Consider outfitting your bed with an extra flat sheet, duvet, or blanket made from natural, breathable textiles such as cotton, linen, or wool. If you suffer from cold feet before bed, wool or cotton socks are another great way to achieve comfort while lowering your core temperature. They bring blood flow (in other words, heat) to the surface of your skin and pull it away from your core.

10. Stow extra blankets and sweaters around the house

Your mom was right, you should just put on a sweater—but keep it where you’ll actually use it so you don’t impulsively turn up the heat. Hoodies and sweatshirts that usually sit in your dresser can be draped on your home office chair or hung near your front door when you get home, while blankets that have been sitting in a hope box all summer are on yours Couch or waiting for you can elegantly folded in your favorite reading corner. Think of it as a way to literally embrace winter by wrapping yourself in something extra cozy.

This article was edited by Catherine Kast and Annemarie Conte.

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