With winter on the way it’s time to think about your seasonal energy-saving strategy. If done properly, energy-saving efforts can provide enough money-saving to pay for your holiday cheer. A professional home energy audit might make the perfect holiday gift — the U.S. Energy Department suggests giving one to someone special and that someone might just be yourself.
1. Audit your home energy use
An audit will help you pinpoint where your home is losing energy — and what you can do to save money — by checking for air leaks, inspecting insulation, surveying heating and cooling equipment and more. By making upgrades to your home, following a home energy audit, you could save 5-30 percent on your energy bills.
Short of a professional audit, the feds also have a long list of energy-smart suggestions you can put into practice yourself to save money in winter.
2. Conserve in the kitchen
With all of the special baking and big meal preparation going on for the holiday season, your oven will probably be working overtime. Cooking alone accounts for 4.5 percent of your home’s energy use, and when factoring in other kitchen appliances, your kitchen’s energy use can be as high as 15 percent.
By taking simple actions in the kitchen — like using the right-sized pots on stove burners to save about $36 annually for an electric range or $18 for gas, and using the oven light to check on a dish’s progress to prevent heat loss instead of opening the door — you can entertain in style without raising your energy bill.
3. Install a thermostat and service your heating system
By installing and setting a programmable thermostat, you can save money on your energy bills — lowering your thermostat 10-15 degrees for 8 hours can save 5-15 percent a year on heating bills. When you are home and awake, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable. When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat down 10 degrees. If you are traveling this holiday, be sure to program your thermostat for energy savings.
Schedule service for your heating system. For furnaces, replace your furnace filter once a month or as needed. For wood- and pellet-burning heaters, clean the flue vent regularly and clean the inside of the appliance with a wire brush periodically to ensure that your home is heated efficiently.
4. Maintain fireplace and chimney
Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal it. If you do use it, install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room. When you use the fireplace, open the dampers or open the nearest window slightly and close doors leading into the room and set the thermostat lower. Make the damper seal as snug as possible and caulk around the fireplace hearth.
5. Insulate drafty windows
By installing storm windows you can cut heat loss through your windows by 25-50 percent. Seal standard window frames by taping heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet as added insulation. Install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that still feel drafty after weatherizing. Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
6. Seal air leaks
Seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulk or weatherstripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.
7. Turn down the water heater
Water heating can account for 14-25 percent of the energy consumed in your home. Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You’ll not only save energy, you’ll avoid scalding your hands.
8. Use less gasoline
Whether you are driving around town doing errands or across the country to visit family, fuel costs can add up over the holidays. One way to reduce fuel consumption is to empty your car after all your driving trips — an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could increase gas costs by up to 8 cents a gallon.
9. Save on gifts and batteries
If computers, TVs or other electronics are on your holiday season shopping list be sure to ask for ENERGY STAR home electronics for instant energy savings. Depending on usage, an ENERGY STAR computer can save 30-65 percent more energy compared a computer without this designation.
If you are buying gifts that require batteries, consider purchasing rechargeable batteries — which are more cost effective than disposable batteries — and an ENERGY STAR battery charger for them. In this country alone, more energy-efficient battery chargers could save us more than $170 million annually.
10. Reduce holiday lighting costs
Try lighting up your home with LED lights. In addition to being sturdier and more resistant to breakage, LED holiday lights also last longer and consume 70 percent less energy than conventional incandescent lights. It only costs 27 cents to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights.
When decking your house in holiday lights, use timer controls to lower energy consumption and save money. Timer controls allow you turn lights on and off at specific times, while staying in the holiday spirit.
Even when you aren’t using lights and electronics, they still draw small amounts of energy — at an average cost of $100 a year for American households. Plug your electronics into a power strip and turn it off to reduce your energy bills.
Put into practice from top to bottom, this list of energy-smart suggestions can help you save money in winter while making sure you’re still warm and cozy.
Jeff is a licensed real estate agent in California and he specializes in home buying, mortgages, and debt, among other money topics. His work has appeared in Business Insider and Trulia.