Heating and cooling account for 55% of home energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And those lucky enough to be in a northern climate average even higher. That’s a good chunk of change, and in the case of heating oil, could eclipse even the annual property taxes on a home.
If you fall in to that heating oil user category and plan on staying put for a while, you may want to consider a conversion. It is not cheap, but it won’t take long to make your money back, given the savings. And if you do sell your home, you’ll probably recoup most of that initial cost.
Outside of a dramatic, expensive change like that, what are some cheaper/easier changes one can make?
1. Use (& Program) a Smart Programmable Thermostat
If you are setting your temperature and leaving it the same throughout the day, your money is literally floating away in to the atmosphere. You do not need the same temperature when you are away for work or sleeping, as you do during your waking home hours.
And if you are periodically changing the temperature throughout the day and do it habitually multiple times every single day, you are of a stronger mind than I.
The Nest Programmable Thermostat (with wifi) is the top selling, highest rated, and most feature-rich wifi enabled programmable thermostat out there. Versus a non-programmable thermostat, it could save you upwards of $180 per year. These thermostats provide a huge convenience factor in that you don’t have to mess with the thermostat every time you go to bed, wake up, go to work, or get back from work. And you can monitor and change temperature in your home if you are traveling.
Installing and programming my thermostat has saved me about 20% on my heating and cooling costs. According to Energy Star, installing and correctly using an Energy Star programmable digital thermostat can cut your heating and cooling costs by $180 per year. If you purchase a $190 device, you will earn yourself a return on investment towards the beginning of your 2nd year, and then it’s pure savings for as long as it works.
Last fall, I covered how to program your thermostat effectively to achieve these gains in the winter. You’ll have to re-program it with the change from heat to AC.
2. Get a Low-Flow Showerhead and Aerators for your Kitchen and Bathroom Faucets
The next best way to save on heating is not the most intuitive because most people think of air when they think of heating and cooling costs.
As I covered yesterday in my saving water post, if you cut down on your hot water usage (I use this showerhead), you also cut down your heating bill. It’s a 2-for-1 special! And it’s a low cost investment, with great ROI.
3. Turn Down the Temperature on your Water Heater
This reminder tip is especially relevant during the hot summer months. You do not need scalding hot water for a shower. Turn that water temperature on your water heater down. And when you go on vacation, turn it all the way down! No sense in keeping the tea kettle steeping when you are not in the home, so why would you do it with your hot water heater?
4. Switch from Central AC to a Fan or Room AC
Just covered this in the post on cutting electricity use and previously on the cost of a fan vs. an air conditioner, so I won’t again. But it would have a huge impact.
5. Seal your Air Ducts
Sealing your air ducts can lower your heating and cooling expenses by 20% if done properly, in addition to adding to the overall air quality of your dwelling. You can use metal tape to seal off joints where your cuts meet. Check out the Energy Star guide to properly sealing your ducts.
6. Add Attic Insulation & Seal Leaks to the Outdoors
This can also lower your HVAC expenses by another 20%. And if you have a pre 90’s era home and nobody has done this, it needs to be done ASAP.
A few years ago, I added cellulose insulation to my attic, by renting an insulation blowing machine from Home Depot (free with 24 bags of purchased insulation). I was able to add a foot of insulation to my entire attic (which previously had very little) for about $350. Not cheap, but I have since recouped my costs with each passing winter.
Heating & Cooling Savings Discussion:
- Have you switched from heating oil to an alternative? How much money have you saved?
- What techniques have you used, and how much have you saved?
How do you feel about the Nest? While the price tag is quite high, I find myself contemplating it for a few main reasons:
#1 Auto away mode. While the traditional programmable thermostat yields great savings by turning itself off when you’re REGULARLY gone, the Nest goes a step further and will stay off when you’re gone, even outside of the normal schedule. Often times I’ll hang out with friends after work and the Nest would be able to tell I’m not home when I usually am and stay off.
#2 Energy company Rebate. My energy provider offers an $85 rebate if you enroll in their peak hour reduced usage program. Basically they give you advance notice when they will control your A/C for 2 hours during peak demand. It’s only a certain number of days a week and you can always manually override it.
#3 Wifi remote control. It’s nice to be able to control the A/C remotely. I know some other thermostats provide this feature as well but it’s definitely a useful feature
I have heard good things about it, but have not personally used it. You are right, the price tag is pretty high.
I’ve had my 2nd generation Nest for about 6 months now. While I really like it, I feel like I could have done nearly as well with another WIFI-enabled thermostat, as long as it offered remote access. Nest does make it a total hands-off easy-to-use approach, and their continued updates have me really excited for the future potential of the product. I don’t regret the purchase, but haven’t seen quite the same savings as originally expected. This is probably because I previously always set my old programmable thermostat.
One thing I forgot to mention about the Nest that I really love is that it learns how long it takes to cool down your house, and depending on the outdoor temperature, it adjusts when it turns on, so that your home cools down by the time you have it set for. At the same time, this could result in additional run time and a higher cost for you over time.
I’m in an apartment now so I have no choice on the A/C setup being central air. (but the electric bill has been steadily around 65 to 75 a month all year for 800 sq ft)
I’m wondering though about a couple of things suggested here.
Central air vs a wall unit is more expensive but isn’t that because it’s covering more space?
The other thing I question is the idea of having different temperatures for your a/c throughout the day.
Maybe this is a common misconception, but wouldn’t it burn more energy to have the a/c set higher when you’re away, and then crank it down when you’re at home? The a/c has to make up for the temperature difference right?
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to dollar cost average the temp so to speak and just leave it at 78 all day?
btw i’m in Tampa FL so that’s why i’m ignoring the heating part lol.
Room AC: I find easy to get by without AC on all but the worst of days – with one exception – sleeping at night. For those like me, having a room AC only makes perfect sense.
On all day vs. only certain times: If AC is on all day it is constantly firing off/on with a matter of a 1 degree temp. increase/decrease. This definitely uses more energy vs. running it for a half hour or so before you go to sleep and then having it fire off/on for the next 8 hours.
Turning down the temperature on the water heater is such an easy thing to do, but most people still don’t do it! It was interesting though when our gas company came to our house to replace the meter… When they checked the pilot light on the water heater, they turned the heat back up! I think they we’re trying to get some more money out of me!
What do you usually set the temperature to?
I’ve been on the fence about getting the programmable thermostat. How long did it take to pay for itself?
Within a few months.
We felt like we were doing everything we could, but just got a letter from the power company saying that our bill is almost $100 more each month than surrounding homes. We have programmable thermostats, but I’m home all day long since I work from home so it really doesn’t do us much good unless we are away on weekends.
I’m going to try the modlet and some LED bulbs in the lamps we use most often. I’ll try one bulb first. They’re expensive and we have CFLs in every lamp and overhead fixture.
I love my programmable thermostat; when people aren’t home during the day, the A/C automatically adjusts itself. It requires literally zero of my ongoing time and effort, and yet it saves me money (and reduces my emissions) each month. That’s a win-win.
I feel the same way about the aerators on my faucets and my WaterSense toilet; it requires zero of my ongoing effort and yet it continuously saves me money (reduced water bill) plus helps the environment. Another win-win.
I found the biggest thing I could easily do to lower my heating and cooling bills was to keep it cooler in the winter and hotter in the summer. By wearing layers in the wintertime and using fans and keeping the windows open when possible I’ve been able to drastically reduce my A/C and heating usage saving money on my electricity bill.
Important tips! I know people who are looking for a house in the Northeast US where winters are rough. They refuse to even look at a house that has oil heat. It’s just too expensive and the price of oil often rises as the winter goes on. You can replace it with gas heat, but that’s pretty expensive too.
Another tip: use insulated drapes on your windows. It really keeps the heat/cold out. They go on sale in the Spring, but they pay off in the summer heat as well.
Big fan! Just received a letter about an alternative utility option. I was only aware of the big companies in my area. Are there truly benefits to using smaller suppliers or is it a scam? Also, just a thought, what about a weekly/ monthly post where followers ask a question and you respond with insight?
Im retired and home a lot,,,I have my thermostat set at 76 degrees all the time,,,I find by not changing it,, I save money,,, I heat and cool 2000 sq ft in Tn. for an average of $129 per month. I enjoy dressing the same in summer and winter inside our home,,,I can wear shorts or a T shirt inside all year long… We have 3 sugar gliders, that do require warmer temperatures
76 in the winter? Way too hot! (and a waste of energy)