Ten Tips for Winter Heating

We all want to save energy and money this heating season. Greenwala published these ten ways that people make mistakes with their heating. I found them to be very helpful and will, for instance, not shut down my unused rooms any longer.

Even with a constant flow of information about energy efficiency, homeowners make major heating mistakes that end in higher electric bills and larger environmental footprints.

Here are 10 of those errors, with the cause and effect of each decision.

1. Maintaining a constant temperature

Cause: A persistent myth suggests that you can save energy by leaving the house at a comfortable 68 degrees (a widely recommended winter setting), even when you are sleeping or away at work.

The idea is that it takes more energy for the furnace to reach a comfortable temperature than to maintain that temperature.

Effect: You could miss out on significant potential energy savings by not using a programmable thermostat and adjusting the temperature overnight and during the workday.

Though the impacts of adjusting the thermostat vary based on your climate and other factors, studies show that knocking the temperature down by 10 degrees for eight hours per day can cut heating bills by 5 to 15 percent.

Sure, the furnace will cycle on for a longer period to return to the more comfortable temperature, but it will be far outweighed by hours of savings when it didn’t have to work as hard.

2. Cranking up the temperature to warm up the house

Cause: You come home in the middle of the day to a cold house. You want to warm back up to 68 ASAP, so you crank the dial up to 78 to get the furnace working harder and faster.

Effect: No time is saved in reheating the house. Most furnaces pump out heat at the same rate no matter the temperature. They just cycle on for a longer period to reach a higher temperature.

The furnace will take the same amount of time to return to 68 degrees regardless of the thermostat setting. By cranking up the thermostat, you are likely to overheat the house past 68 degrees and waste energy. Just reset the thermostat to 68, make some hot chocolate, and wait.

[ Learn how to get the most out of a programmable thermostat. ]

3. Closing off vents in unused rooms

Cause: You don’t want to waste energy heating rooms you aren’t using.

Effect: Again, this just wastes energy and makes your furnace run inefficiently because it changes the air pressure in the whole system.

Experts recommend never shutting off more than 10 percent of vents. Sealing your ducts is a more efficient way to save energy.

4. Using the fireplace

Cause: You found some free firewood on Craigslist and think you can burn up some free heating energy while enjoying a romantic fire.

Effect: While we can’t make any promises about increased romance, we can predict increased energy bills. An open fireplace flue may suck more cold air into the house than the fire can radiate into the living space.

5. Using electric room heaters

Cause: You spend most of your time in a couple of rooms, so you figure you will just heat them with space heaters.

Effect: This could lead to higher energy bills and greater fire risks. Generally, a central gas heating system is cheaper and more efficient than a set of electric room heaters. Electric heaters also can be a fire hazard.

There are exceptions. A single energy-efficient space heater in a small, well-insulated room can save energy if the central heater is switched off.

[ Learn how to use space heaters efficiently. ]

6. Switching to electric heating

Cause: Electric heaters are more efficient than fuel-based systems, so they must be cheaper and better for the environment, according to this popular idea.

Effect: In most areas, simply switching to electric heat leads to higher energy bills and a bigger carbon footprint. Your heater may be more efficient, but most U.S. homes are still linked to coal-fired power plants. These coal plants and their transmission systems are extremely inefficient.

Of course, it’s a different story if you have a large photovoltaic solar array or your utility company uses renewable energy.

7. Replacing the windows

Cause: Those big pieces of glass get so darn cold. They must be the reason your house is so drafty.

Effect: You could spend a lot of money to only take care of part of the problem. Windows must be installed properly to avoid drafts, gaps, and leaks.

Moreover, more heat is typically lost through poorly insulated walls and ceilings than through windows.

8. Replacing the furnace first

Cause: You blame high energy bills on an old, inefficient furnace.

Effect: Your energy bills will still be higher than necessary if you don’t start with cheaper, smaller upgrades to improve the energy efficiency of your home, such as caulking around windows and doors and adding insulation.

9. Upgrading to the most efficient furnace on the market

Cause: You want the sleekest, most energy-efficient furnace available because it will be the most cost effective as well.

Effect: You may end up replacing an over-sized furnace with another (albeit more efficient) over-sized furnace. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that most U.S. homes have over-sized HVAC systems.

Again, insulate and weatherize to maximize efficiency, then get the smallest system that will comfortably meet your heating needs, which will be substantially reduced. Also make sure it is professionally installed.

10. Using incandescent light bulbs for heating

Cause: Incandescent bulbs give off more heat than light, so they must be warming up the house.

Effect: It is hard to see this logic as anything but a weak excuse for holding on to the Edison bulbs rather than switching to CFL and LED lighting.

In fact, one German entrepreneur is marketing incandescent bulbs as “heat balls” to skirt EU laws against the old-style bulbs. However, I doubt he is keeping cozy this winter simply by sleeping with the lights on.

This post was written by

fashiongreentbags – who has written posts on Eco Etsy.

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Comments

  1. Helpful information. Any unique ideas of what TO do for a warmer house in the winter?

  2. Couldn’t agree more with the ‘cranking’ of the thermostat. We drop our temperature down quite low during the day while at work (and at night after turning in), and used to crank it as soon as we got home. Now we are patient, just like you mentioned. I found a good post on winter home tips I thought you might like, as well. Thanks for the help!

  3. That is right, we spend most of our time at home in only a couple rooms. Space heaters work great whether it is a small room or a big, open one. An edenpure heater can heat a room up to 1000 sq feet and are a lot more energy efficient than most portable heaters.

  4. Very interesting! I didn’t know about the closed vents (who knew?). Off to switch them back open. Thanks for the info!

  5. I can personally attest to how expensive electric heat can be. We renovated an older home many years ago and put in top level insulation, new windows, new siding & buttoned up all the gaps with caulking. Then we installed electric run baseboard heaters and completely programmable thermostats that were rated to save up to 35% in energy costs. Our first January our bill was close to $700 and that was for only a 1400 square foot house set at 68 almost consistently (while at work it was set to 64). Gas is the way we’ve gone since & couldn’t be happier with our winter bil of $100 a month :-) Great article with lots of excelent tips, didn’t know that about a chimney flue but keeping it in mind now, thanks!