Adding insulation to your attic, installing thermal windows or upgrading your appliances are all good ways to use less energy and lower your winter heating bills. But all these methods require a serious outlay of cash upfront — cash you may not have right now. And if you’re renting your home, these methods aren’t even an option for you.

For much less money you can do a number of things to cut your utility bill:

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs have become much less expensive. Some utility companies even give them away free. The Department of Energy reports that replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs reduces the amount you spend on lighting energy by up to 75 percent. When we replaced most of the bulbs in our home with CFLs, our electric bill dropped $10 a month!
  • Bubble-wrap your windows. Heat loss through windows accounts for 10 to 25 percent of your heating bills. Block that heat loss, and you’ll realize immediate savings. Double paned windows work by creating an air space between the panes of glass that acts as insulation to keep cold air out of your home and warm air in. You can mimic this by cutting bubble wrap to fit the window. Wet the glass with a damp sponge or rag and stick the bubble wrap to the glass. The clear bubble wrap lets in light, but helps block cold. In the spring, simply peel the wrap off of the window and save it for next year. You can purchase large rolls of bubble wrap at packing stores, moving stores or warehouse stores. When we spent part of the Colorado winter in a travel trailer, we covered the windows in bubble wrap and saw a dramatic decrease in the amount of propane we used to heat the trailer even when temperatures fell below zero for weeks at a time.
  • Block drafts. Make a fabric tube and fill it with rice, beans, sawdust, fiberfill or fabric scraps and lay this on window sills and in front of doors to keep out cold air. In the 70’s people called these “draft dodgers” and they still work.
  • Add quilts and blankets to beds and turn the heat down at night. Most people sleep better in a cooler room. Put flannel or fleece sheets on the bed and wear flannel pajamas and socks to bed. Pull on a knit cap – there’s a reason our ancestors wore nightcaps – they really do help keep you warmer.
  • Pile more blankets on the sofa and wrap up while you’re watching television or reading in the evening. Drink hot tea and cocoa. If you get cold, take an exercise break – do some jumping jacks or jog in place during a commercial. It’ll warm you up and burn some calories.
  • Wear long underwear, thick socks and a knit hat in the house. You really will be warmer.
  • Designate one room as activity central and keep that room warmer with a space heater. Close doors to other rooms. A kitchen or living room works best. Everyone gathers here to eat, do homework, watch television or read. You’ll save money over heating individual rooms and promote family togetherness.
  • Turn down the water heater to 120 degrees. This is hot enough to wash dishes and take baths. You can turn the water heater off altogether if you’re gone during the day, but remember to turn it on again an hour or so before you take baths or do dishes or laundry.
  • Hang your laundry to dry. String a clothesline in the bathroom or basement, or hang laundry on clothes drying racks in the bedrooms. The drying clothes will add humidity to your home to combat the drying effects of winter heating. According to the Department of Energy, air drying clothes will save the average family about $80 a year.
  • Track your savings. Knowing you saved X amount of dollars by switching out light bulbs or lowering the thermostat will spur you on to experiment with new savings measures AND prove to your family that a few small changes can make a big difference.

This has been a guest post by Cindy from Bailey, CO
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