During the winter months we can consume energy pretty quickly and easily. We're trying to keep warm indoors and we're using all the appliances and electronics much more than we would when we're outside during the warmer months. Though I live in Southern California, our house has plaster walls and little insulation. We can feel a bitter chill from the ocean just a couple of miles down the road and sometimes winter days aren't so mild.
I've tried to implement some of these tips below to help warm us up in ways that are kinder to the earth -- and to our bank account. Go through the checklist and see what you can do, either to save energy now or to plan ahead for next winter.
1. Monitor your thermostat. If you turned down your thermostat just one degree, according to the Nature Conservancy you would reduce your heating costs by 4 percent. So just imagine the money you'd save if you turned it down five degrees. Think about investing in a programmable thermostat, which allows you to heat your home according to a schedule that you choose. You can set it to turn off the heat when you leave the house and restart before you return home. You can also program in a lower temperature at night and then a higher temperature in the morning, making it easier to get out of your warm, cozy bed. Another idea -- one that we follow in our house -- is to use space heaters. This way you're only heating the rooms that you're using instead of the entire house. Make sure you keep your children and pets away from these heaters at all times. If you prefer central heat, then just close off the ducts in the rooms you're not using. Magnetic covers, sold at hardware stores, do an even better job at sealing the vents.
2. Use your ceiling fan in the winter! You might get some funny looks from your houseguests when you do this, but hot air rises, and ceiling fans can circulate the air evenly in the room.
3. Check your hot water heater. It may be running too hot, and turning it down just a bit saves on your energy bill. And there's a safety benefit, too: Setting it to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.9 Celsius) or lower helps protect your child from being scalded. Also, have your water heater insulated so it's not working overtime at your expense. We turn ours off when we go out of town, even if it's just for a few days. There are also timers and manual switches for hot water heaters that allow you to only run it while you're home. Some utility companies offer a reduced rate if you have one installed.
4. Look at your windows and what's covering them. Your windows play a huge role in your energy bill. Here's an easy conservation tip: Open draperies and shades of south-facing windows getting natural light during the day so that the sun can do its job of warming a room at no cost to you. Think about removing any shrubbery or trees that might obscure sunlight from your house. Planting trees on the north side of homes can reduce cooling effects of the wind. How about ramping up your window coverings? Hang insulated drapes, which trap the warm air inside and keep the cold air from coming in. Or install double pane windows. They're a bigger stretch for your budget in the short term, but a worthwhile investment long term, as they save money on the utility bill.
5. Shut your chimney flue. When you're not using your fireplace, be sure the flue is completely closed. If it's not, a draft will come in through the chimney and warm air will seep out.
Your utility company is also a great resource for energy conservation ideas. Telephone the company or check its Web site to find out about energy-efficient appliances, fuel buyer cooperatives, and other useful tips for reducing your energy consumption and trimming your monthly bill.