Stay Warm while Saving Energy in Chilly Months

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor

When Old Man Winter starts to do his thing, I can turn into an all-out energy monster if I’m not careful. Long, red-hot showers? You betcha. Thermostat set to 70 degrees Fahrenheit? ‘Tis my preference. Gas fireplace? Never let it be unlit!

Of course, I know that’s not how I should behave. More than half of the average homeowner’s energy bill is already dedicated to heating and cooling. And while the power supply here in Portland is among the cleanest in the nation, 21 percent still comes from natural gas and 24 percent from “unspecified sources” … which sounds a lot like fossil fuels to me.

Point being? When the temperature drops and you’re tempted to compensate with various manufactured heat sources, don’t. Instead, try these tips.

Pile on the Layers

I know, I know. Sometimes it feels like we’ll die if we don’t turn up the heat, like, yesterday. I’ve been there. I’m there pretty much every morning from October through May. But pulling on two sweatshirts, thick socks and a pair of slippers really does work. When that’s still not enough, try some hot tea.

The thing is, we all know these tricks. It’s less a matter of understanding what to do and more a matter of committing to do it. This winter, be like your Depression-era grandma and whip out those layers before turning the heat up.

Use Curtains


Utilize your curtains during the fall and winter months to save on your energy bill| image: Seniju/Flickr

Curtains are not just for decoration, they actually do a lot to keep your home toasty warm. Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to let in the light then close them at night to prevent all of that natural warmth from leaking back out. Curtains are especially effective on drafty windows, though if the case is particularly bad, you may need to replace older windows with ENERGY STAR certified versions.

This tactic is especially effective if you live in a place that tends to be sunny but cold in the winter such as Colorado, Chicago, or Arizona. Here’s a helpful guide to choosing eco-friendly curtains so you can keep toxin-laden, eco-unfriendly versions out of your home.

Be Smart with the Thermostat

Again, it’s tempting to crank up that thermostat, but don’t. Keep it as low as comfortable. At night, scale it back even more, even up to 5-10 degrees cooler if you can. Doing this for 8 hours at night can save you roughly 10 percent on your energy bills, with concomitant benefits for Mother Earth. (Here’s some math-y proof if you’re a total nerd like me.) If you’re away from home for a long period of time, you can lower it 10 or even 15 degrees.

To get the most benefits, it’s wise to put your thermostat on an automatic setting so you don’t have to remember to do it every night. If you’re not sure how to set the thermostat automatically, check out this primer.

Get an Energy Audit

Lastly, this is one of the best things to do to ensure you’re not wasting energy. A professional home energy audit can help you determine where energy is going to waste in your home, and build a plan for how to fix it.

To make the most of the audit, take notes about any important information beforehand: unusually drafty rooms, condensation on windows, heating vents that don’t seem to be working, etc. You should also have copies of your monthly energy bills for the past year or so. If you don’t keep those on file, check your utility company’s website or give them a call and ask for them.

Being a little greener in the fall and winter is a relatively simple prospect overall. Mostly, it just takes a commitment to better behavior (not my strong suit, either), as well as a few fixes if your home is guzzling power when and where it shouldn’t be. These tips aren’t anything you can’t handle, so warm up and get on it!

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.