Free and Cheap Tips for Saving Energy This Winter

In addition to the Home Energy Analysis tool previously posted, here are some more no-cost and low-cost tips for saving energy from the Alliance to Save Energy. I’ve highlighted the ones that I personally should follow up on before it gets really chilly.

Free Ideas

  • Check the furnace filter each month, and clean or replace it as needed. Dirty filters block air flow through your heating and cooling systems, increasing your energy bill and shortening the equipment?s life.
  • Only heat or cool the rooms you need?close vents and doors of unused rooms.

  • Turn off everything not in use: lights, TVs, computers, etc.
  • Glass fireplace doors help stop heat from being lost up the chimney. Also, close the fireplace damper when not in use.
  • Activate “sleep” features on computers and office equipment that power down when not in use for a while. Turn off equipment during longer periods of non-use to cut energy costs and improve longevity.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather, and set your thermostat to the lowest possible comfortable setting. On winter nights, put an extra blanket on the bed and turn down your thermostat more.
  • About 15 percent of an average home energy bill goes to heating water. To save hot water, take five-minute showers instead of baths. Do only full loads when using the clothes washer or dishwasher.
  • Switch to cold water washing of laundry in top-loading, energy-inefficient washing machines to save energy and up to $63 a year?detergents formulated for cold water get clothes just as clean.
  • Lower the temperature on your water heater. It should be set at ?warm,? so that a thermometer held under running water reads no more than 120 degrees.

Cheap Ideas

  • Install low-flow showerheads and sink aerators to reduce hot water use.
  • Seal and weatherstrip your windows and doors to ensure that you’re not wasting energy on heat or air conditioning that escapes through leaks to the outdoors.
  • A water tank insulation wrap costs about $20 and helps hold the heat inside. Add pre-cut pipe insulation to exposed pipes going into your water heater?it is cheap and easy to install. If you?re starting with an uninsulated tank, the energy savings should pay for the improvements in just a few months.
  • Duct tape works well on lots of things, but it often fails when used on ductwork! Use mastic (a gooey substance applied with a paintbrush) to seal all exposed ductwork joints in areas such as the attic, crawlspace, or basement. Insulate ducts to improve your heating system?s efficiency and your own comfort.
  • Storm windows can reduce heat lost by single-paned windows by 25?50 percent during the winter. As an alternative, you can improve your windows temporarily with plastic sheeting installed on the inside.
  • When buying new products, look for the ENERGY STAR? label, found on more than 40 different products such as TVs, furnaces, cell phones, refrigerators, air conditioners and more.
  • Incandescent light bulbs are outdated; 95 percent of the energy used goes to heating the bulb, adding unwanted heat to your home in the summer. Replace your five most used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent bulbs to save $60 each year in energy costs. These light bulbs use two-thirds less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Use dimmers, timers, and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.
  • Consider safer, more efficient ENERGY STAR torchiere lamps rather than halogen torchieres, which can cause fires. Halogen bulbs are expensive to use.

The entire list is also available for printing as a pdf file. I’ve also been playing with my new Kill-a-watt energy meter all this week, and should have some decent data share soon.


  1. Good advice. My wife and I just bought a home and the inspector said that the $1 furnace filters are actually better than the expensive ones.

    Think of your furnace like a car–if you do not maintain it will break down.

  2. Jonathan, I’ve read that it’s NOT a good idea to close vents in rooms that are unused. The idea is that your HVAC system is carefully designed for X number of vents, once you start closing vents, the pressure is increased in the ducts and this can damage the system (e.g. cause leaks in the ductwork).

    I’ve also read that this can damage a heat pump, if that’s what’s used to heat your house.

    Maybe someone with more experience in this field can comment, but it seems reasonable to me… I’d recommend researching this yourself.

  3. Another tip that I can add for the coming winter:
    When you have a bath, or more likely, your kids have a bath, leave the warm water in the tub until it reaches room temperature. This can be as simple as putting your kids to bed, and waiting to drain the tub until you go to bed. The heat stored in water is substantial and it will heat the surrounding area as it cools.

  4. I also use just plain clear packing tape on my windows. I don’t want to invest in new windows for my place because I rent, and this is a great way to save some cash for little $$$.

  5. Chris – I think I’ve heard the same thing, but only if you close a large amount of your vents. One of the house I lived in had a partially finished attic which we never used, so we definitely close the vent going there.

    Greg – I rent too, and you may want check out this shrinkwrap insulation. It worked well for me last year.

  6. Its about water heating. Me and my wife turns on the heater 20 min before we are going to take a shower. Then when we are leaving for work, we swtich it off. Our gas bill has gone down drastically after this. i dont know if this is good practise or not..

  7. Hi,

    “Switch to cold water washing of laundry in top-loading, energy-inefficient washing machines to save energy and up to $63 a year?detergents formulated for cold water get clothes just as clean.”

    Shouldn’t this say switch to front-loading, energy-efficient washing machines instead of top-loading, energy-inefficient washing machines?



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