Although there's not much you can do about the price of fuel, there are ways to use less energy and lower your heating bills. And some of these changes may entitle you to federal tax credits that can add to your savings.
Paying for fuel
The most obvious way to save on home heating costs is to shop around for the best price on fuel. Here are a few tips:
- If possible, lock in a lower rate when buying heating oil. Some companies allow customers to lock in a low rate in exchange for paying for all of their fuel up-front.
- Consider buying heating fuel in the off-season. If you fill up your tank during the spring or summer, you may be able to get a much better price per gallon than in the fall and winter when everyone is buying oil.
- If you're concerned about your ability to pay heating bills, contact your gas and other utility companies. You may be able to get "level billing," which stretches your heating bills throughout the entire year rather than just the winter season.
Improving the overall energy efficiency of your home
Although it makes sense to look for good fuel prices, the very best way to save money on heating costs is to simply use less heat. Yes, you can start by turning down your thermostat (even just one degree when you're sleeping at night can make a difference), but there are many other easy, low-cost steps you can take to save energy and money.
- An energy audit will show you how much energy you use and pinpoint ways to improve energy efficiency. Find out if your utility provider can do a free or low-cost home energy audit. You can also do a self-audit. Visit the Department of Energy's Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment.
- Service your heating system. Furnaces need regular service in order to run efficiently. An annual service call, which usually involves cleaning and changing the filters in your system, costs about $100 but will probably save you much more over the course of the year in lower fuel use.
- Install a programmable thermostat. You can save up to ten percent a year on heating and cooling expenses by turning your thermostat back for eight hours. A new, programmable thermostat will automatically lower the heat when you're at work and bring it back up to ensure a warm home when you return.
- Make sure your attic and ceilings are adequately insulated. Heat rises, and if it's not stopped by insulation, it will escape through your roof. Hire a contractor to assess your insulation and replace or add to it if necessary.
- Install ceiling fans if you don't already have them, and use them throughout the winter. Running ceiling fans slowly and in reverse will keep warm air (which rises) circulating around a room rather than just collecting near the ceiling.
- Make sure that furniture isn't blocking floor vents or radiators. This simple step can help your heating system run more efficiently and make rooms feel much warmer.
- Heat only the rooms that you use. Close off rooms that you don't use, such as extra bedrooms.
- Buy energy efficient appliances whenever possible. Look for the Energy Star logo on new appliances.
- Consider replacing an old furnace or boiler. Newer models are much more energy efficient and will save you money in the long term.
- If you have a fireplace, make sure the damper is closed when it's not in use.
- Visit the Energy Saver website for more tips.
Improving the energy efficiency of windows and doors
Windows and doors can raise your heating costs if not properly maintained. Here are some ways to make them more energy efficient.
- Seal up drafts by adding weather stripping to doors and covering windows with plastic. These are easy and inexpensive ways to conserve energy because they help keep warm air in and cool air out.
- Repair or replace broken or cracked window and door glass so that drafts can't get through.
- Install storm doors and windows. Storm windows and doors can decrease heat loss by up to fifty percent.
- Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to allow warm sunlight into your home. Then close them at night to keep the warm air in. Consider investing in insulated curtains for especially cold rooms. These will act as a second barrier against the cold air.
- Install thermopane windows. Old windows are typically very drafty and inefficient. Consider replacing your windows with thermopanes, which can increase the energy efficiency of your home by up to seventy percent.
Saving money on heating your hot water
You use heat every time you take a bath or shower or use the dishwasher or washing machine. Here are some ways to reduce how much you use:
- Insulate your water heater. Insulation helps hot water stay hot longer without using extra energy.
- Install a low-flow showerhead. If your home was built before 1992, consider installing a low-flow showerhead that will reduce the amount of water and heat you use.
- Invest in a waterproof shower timer. You may find it much easier to cut back on your shower time and hot water use if you buy an inexpensive timer that attaches to a shower wall with a suction cup.
- Run the dishwasher or washing machine only when you have a full load. Turning on either machine to wash just a few things wastes hot water.
- Wash clothes in cold water, using a cold-water detergent when possible. About ninety percent of the energy used for washing clothes comes from heating the water, according to the Department of Energy.
- Use a clothes dryer efficiently. Clean the lint filter after each use so that it will function efficiently.
Weatherization Assistance Program
While the benefits of making home energy improvements are clear, many families find it difficult to pay for the improvements. Fortunately, the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program allows low-income families to reduce their heating bills by an average of thirty-two percent by making their homes more energy efficient. To be eligible for the program, you must meet certain income requirements and your home must not have been weatherized more recently than 1995.
More information is available at the Department of Energy Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program site.
Tax credits for home energy efficiency
When you make home energy efficiency improvements, you may qualify for federal tax credits that will reduce the amount you owe at tax time. Visit the Department of Energy Tax Credits page for more information.
You may receive additional credits from states that offer incentives for home energy improvements. A financial advisor can tell you if you might benefit from these. You may find additional information about them on the website for your state.
In addition to making your home more energy efficient, try to make sure everyone in your family is committed to saving energy and keeping heating costs low. Talk with family members about how each of them can help to keep costs down by lowering the heat and just being more aware of how energy is used.