With the price of oil approaching $100 a barrel, plenty of people are going to be looking for ways to save money at the gas pump. But residents of the Northeast, where heating oil is commonly used to warm homes in winter, may see their energy bills soar too. No matter where you live, you can save money and energy this winter by following a few simple steps:
Run a tight ship. Minimize the energy needed to heat your home by making sure your windows and doors are well-sealed with caulking and weather-stripping. This easy and inexpensive fix can save as much as 10 percent of winter heating costs.
Seal your ducts. Homes with forced-air heating systems can lose up to 40 percent of their heat if duct joints are poorly sealed. You probably want to get a qualified contractor to do this one, but some states will offer a tax credit to help pay for the work.
Watch your windows. Since most heat loss occurs through the windows, installing thick curtains and drapes can help keep you toasty. Open them during the day to allow warming sunlight to enter, then close them at night to keep the heat inside. Double-paned windows cost more but are worth looking into too.
Temper the temperature. Turning your thermostat down just 5 degrees can cut energy bills (and pollution) by 10 percent, so keep it at 68 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, and 60 degrees or less while you sleep. Chilly? Put on a sweater or add an extra blanket to your bed.
Fan the heat around. Running your ceiling fan clockwise, at a slow speed, recirculates warmer air that accumulates at the ceiling, reducing energy consumption by up to 10 percent.
Put on a greener log. Fireplaces aren't the most efficient--or cleanest--way to heat a home, but they can be awfully cozy. Look for artificial logs made of wood only, avoiding those that contain paraffin, a petroleum-based by-product with dubious emissions quality. (Duraflame has phased all petroleum-based waxes out of its logs). Some cool alternatives include fireplace logs made of recycled cardboard boxes, recycled-paper briquettes, and logs made of used coffee grounds, which burn hotter and longer than wood while producing fewer emissions and less soot.
Heating water is another big energy-hog year-round. A simple insulating blanket to improve the efficiency of your water heater costs only about $20 and is readily available at most hardware stores. Another way to save energy is to wash your laundry in cold water whenever possible. Since each load uses about 40 gallons of water, this small step can make a big difference: One household can eliminate more than a thousand pounds of greenhouse gas emissions in a year just by washing in cold.