Although you can't control fuel prices, you can still find plenty of ways to save on heating costs. And you don't have to be an oil tycoon to do it. Simply using less energy in your home can mean big savings on your heating bill, and can even qualify you for federal tax credits.
Start off your quest to cut that heating bill with some easy, free fixes:
- Make sure your furniture isn't blocking vents or radiators. Poorly arranged furniture could obstruct your heating system, making it work overtime to heat your home.
- Heat only the rooms that you use. Close the vents or shut off the radiator in your spare bedroom or other unused spaces.
- Check your fireplace's damper to make sure it's closed when it's not in use, so your money doesn't go up in smoke.
- Use your ceiling fans during the winter. Hot air rises, so running your ceiling fan slowly in reverse will keep the wa8rm air from collecting near the ceiling.
Be a smart shopper
the Department of Energy's Energy Saver page for more tips on how to cut your utility bills.
Try to keep your fuel costs in check, whether you use oil or gas to heat your home:
- See if your oil company will let you lock in a lower rate. Some companies will let you do this if you agree to pay for all your fuel up front.
- Take advantage of lower prices per gallon in the spring and summer. Buy heating fuel off-season to fill up your oil tank during colder months.
- Check with your gas company to see if it offers what's called level billing. This type of billing averages your heating costs and spreads them out over all 12 months to help you avoid huge winter bills.
- Buy energy efficient appliances whenever possible. Look for the Energy Star logo before you make a purchase.
- Consider upgrading your old furnace or boiler. Newer models are much more energy efficient, so if yours is on its last leg anyway, upgrading will save you money over time.
Boost your home's energy efficiency
Using less heat is the most obvious way to save on fuel costs. But don't turn the thermostat down so low that your family has to eat with mittens on. Instead, try these tips:
- Ask your utility company for a home energy audit to help you pinpoint where you can save money. You can often get one for free. Or, you can do one of the self-audits available online.
- Service your heating system. Furnaces need regular tune-ups, which cost money. But routinely servicing your unit will help your heating system run more efficiently, and that will save you money in the long run.
- Install a programmable thermostat. Thermostats, like everything else, are smarter these days. They can turn the temperature down automatically while you're at work or asleep.
- Check your attic's insulation, or hire a handyman if you're not sure what to look for. Too little insulation allows heat to escape through your ceiling and roof, and too much insulation can lead to ice dams and other problems.
Lock out heat loss from doors and windows
Your money could literally be flying out the window if you have drafty windows and doors:
- Seal up drafts with weather stripping or shrink-wrap kits that cover leaky windows with clear plastic sheeting.
- Fix or replace any broken or cracked windows or doors.
- Install storm doors or windows, which can cut your heat loss by up to 50 percent.
- Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to let the warm sunlight in. And if you have an especially drafty room, think about installing insulated curtains as another barrier against the cold.
- Consider replacing your old windows with energy-efficient windows. These windows are far more cost effective, as evidenced by your lower heating and cooling bills.
Don't let hot water drain your bank account
You may not realize it, but you're using your heating system every time you take a bath or shower. You're even using it when you run the dishwasher or washing machine. Try making these changes to cut heating costs:
- Insulate your water heater. Insulation isn't designed to make your water heater look more fashionable; its job is to help your water stay hot longer without using extra energy.
- Switch to a low-flow showerhead. Today's low-flow options have better water pressure than older models. This change will cut the amount of water and heat that you use.
- Run the dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load. (You won't have to wait long if you have kids.)
- Get a cold-water detergent and wash your clothes in cold water.
- Use a waterproof timer or clock for the shower. Suction that gizmo to the wall to help shave some minutes off your shower time.
Look into federal and state energy programs
The federal government and many state governments offer programs to encourage homeowners to make energy-saving improvements
- Find out about improvements that qualify you for federal tax credits that can reduce what you owe at tax time. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency's tax credits page for more information.
- Check for tax credits available from your state, too. Look on your state's website, or ask a Military OneSource financial counselor to help you find the information you need.
- Get help boosting your home's energy efficiency, which is not always inexpensive. Families on a tight budget can tap into the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program. This resource can help you cut your heating bills by an average of 32 percent. Visit the program's website for details on income requirements and other eligibility guidelines.
There are many ways to use less energy; some take more effort than others. Get started with the easy ones and work your way up to others. Making some energy changes can make a difference, so turn on the savings today.