November 14, 2011

Here it Comes: Winter Time

Last week after a cold front roared through town, we had to turn on our heat for a few mornings to make the house comfortable enough to shower and wake up. That made the timeliness of the following guest post submitted by Andrea Woroch to satisfying retirement perfect.

Furnaces are kicking in across the U.S. as temperatures sink. Alas, keeping warm comes with a higher sticker price each year, no matter what type of heating system you use. According to CNN Money, the average bill for a home using heating oil is more than $320 per month while gas users fork over $160 monthly. Here are some thoughts on how you could lower your heating bill without freezing your way through the winter.

1. Energy Audit

The first step is to assess any problem areas. Ask if your utility company provides a free or low-cost energy audit, which will identify changes you should make. If you such audits aren't available, there are still ways to ascertain problems for yourself and small projects you can accomplish without professional help.

2. Seek Incentives

Some states offer improvement incentives, including providing and installing a free programmable thermostat; paying a portion of insulation upgrades; or providing rebates on the cost of materials. Look for such offers at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. If you can't find an applicable program, you can reduce the cost of supplies by finding coupons for major home improvement centers, hardware stores, big-box stores and more at such sites as CouponSherpa.

3. Change Furnace Filters

Many of us think of changing our furnace filters just once or twice a year, yet experts say we should replace them every month during the heating season. Better yet, switch to a permanent filter you can clean regularly.

4. Dodge the Draft

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can waste 5 to 30 percent of your energy use to heat the great outdoors through drafts. The simplest remedy is to place draft dodgers or snakes at leaking doors. You can use an old towel or make your own easily out of a leg of pantyhose stuffed with rice or sawdust and tied at both ends. To find air leaks, place a light candle in front of possible drafts, have someone blow through the crack from the other side, and watch to see if the flame wavers.

5. Weather Strip Thresholds

Draft snakes are fine for cracks at the bottom of doors, but we often lose heat at the sides and top of doors and windows. Check out this video explaining how to install weather strips.

6. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to keep the house cooler when it's empty and automatically turn up the heat before you arrive at home or get up in the morning. The Nest Learning Thermostat represents the latest and greatest in programmable thermostat technology, but you don't need to shell out $249 to benefit from one of these gadgets. You can pick one up for as little as $20 and save an average of 10% a year on your heating and cooling bill. Check out this article for other high-tech ideas for keeping warm this winter.

7. Upgrade Your Attic Insulation

Roofs are energy vampires. They'll suck rising heat right out of your home, if not properly insulated. Types of insulation include the standard fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms), rigid foam board, spray foam and cellulose. Unless you're handy around the house, this is a project best left to professionals, but it's the best investment you can make to reduce future energy bills.

Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., and has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.

For all  inquiries, please contact Andrea Woroch at  andrea@kinoliinc dot com.


  1. These are all great suggestions for energy savings. Living in Ontario, Canada, we have used most of the ideas beginning with the energy audit, installing a programmable thermostat, adding insulation in the attic, buying new windows, and changing the furnace to a high efficiency model. Our home is comfortable even when the outside temperature dips below -20C. Thanks for the reminders!

  2. Even though we have done all of the above, does not change the fact that our propane rates have gone from $2 a gallon to $3. Plus, our supplier will not fill up 100%. Only 60%. They do this, as explained to me, because too many of their customers have not been able to pay their budget bills. So, they only deliver 3 months supplies.

    What is working for us now, in order to compensate for the anticipated larger heating bill we will soon be paying is NOT turning on the heat. It's Nov 14th in the Northeast, we've already been through a blizzard and temps at night plummet to 30 degrees. Electricity here is cheaper than oil or propane. So, at night we run a small electric, efficient heater on the lowest possible setting, just to take the chill out of the air. We also only live in one room now. We also have an electric blanket on the bed and an electric throw on the couch. Ugh!
    The only way I can figure out now, saving heating costs, is not to use it until extremely necessary. This is new turf for me. I've never lived like this before.
    So far, so good. But it's hard to do work inside the home when it's so cold.

  3. We have an all brick home that tends to stay naturally insulated better than siding. That being said I still have high-efficiency furnaces and programmable thermostats, which I have sworn by for years both in NY and now in TN. We also have gas fireplaces if we just need to take the chill off, and we'll use space heaters in my office and the wife's during the winter, turning off the furnaces during the day.

    I should think about more insulation and I had good intentions of stripping and recaulking the windows this year, but ran out of time. Still working so between that and the normal upkeep of a large home, couldn't get to everything. That will be a job for next summer.

  4. Jeanette,

    I have to remind myself that most folks are getting ready for cold weather. After a blistering Phoenix summer now we can finally open our windows and enjoy the outside. My insulation needs are against 115 degree heat!

  5. Chuck,

    It sounds like you have already taken some important steps. Window caulking and weather stripping are jobs that never end! Tennessee has a much milder climate, but still........

  6. I was so surprised by the oil/gas cost difference I checked my records. I have an oil furnace and I like to be warm, so I am not sparing with the heat on cold mornings. Even with what others might consider liberal use, my cost average for the last 12 months was $156/mo. Of course, my neighbors who use gas might be paying substantially less, so I guess that is the apples to apples comparison. I'm going to ask them! Meanwhile, I'm going to go change the filter right now and get out the draft dodgers!

  7. Morrison,

    Only filling the tank 60% seems wasteful for everyone. If you have a track record with the company and they still treat you like a potential deadbeat, that system is flawed.

    I don't envy you living in one room most of the day to save energy. But, wht else can you do besides pray for a mild winter?

  8. Galen,

    I would guess the average figure from the CNN study is as high as it is because of the much rougher climate in the Northeast and Midwest, then your more moderate temps in the Pacific Northwest.

    By way of comparison, We use a heat pump that cools in the summer and heats in the winter. My electric bill in the summer averages $200 a month and in the winter around $60.

  9. Bob,
    I forgot to mention that there's another reason why the propane company doesn't fill customers up 100%. It's because they have to make sure there is enough propane to go around for everyone. In other words, supply lines are tight. Sometimes, resources aren't available and plentiful.

    That's another thing we must be mindful of.

    That's why, come next winter, we will be installing a wood burning/pellet stove. We won't be dependent on an outside source supplying us with heat.

    We used to take these things for granted: that propane or oil was plentiful and infinite. Now, it might be something that is rationed. Because, I've offered to pay, in cash, for a full fill up, but was declined.

  10. Morrison,

    That is an excellent point and makes sense. The delivery company can only sell what they have.

    A pellet stove sounds like a viable alternative....assuming the pellets aren't going to become so popular they become hard to get! It is always something. And as you are fond of saying, the beat goes on.