With the start of November the darkness is growing as the days shorten (the solstice is Dec. 21), and it's getting COLDER. I turned on my thermostat two weeks ago for the first time this season and set my clocks back this weekend. In step with this, I've been asked repeatedly lately for tips on saving money as you fix up your home for the winter holidays.
This all makes sense as we spend more time indoors and look around our homes almost for the first time since we cleaned up and all went outdoors last spring. In fact, traffic to Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn grows its fastest come September and continues at a pace through March.
These winter months are the months when we are most concerned with the insides of our homes, and these first few are all about energy saving and entertaining.
So, rather than just give tips to others, I've made a list of my top six right here. As with everything we do, please feel free to add your own in the comments. :)
1. Install a Programable Thermostat
I did this last year, and it's a no brainer. While programmable thermostats used to be expensive and complicated, they are no longer, and they allow you to easily only heat your home when you are there and turn it down at all other times. It's a huge way to save money.
My favorite is the NEST Thermostat, which just came out in the past two years. Easy to install yourself in place of your old one (it's a 15 minute job), they are beautiful little pieces of wall jewelry that light up when you pass by and allow you to control heating and cooling manually, with a schedule and remotely by smartphone or computer. Imagine checking the temperature of your house from the office and turning it up before you get home, or turning your thermostat at home in Boston down thousands of miles away after you've just arrived for a week vacation in Mexico.
For those who want some alternatives, here are Four Budget Programmable Thermostats.
2. Replace Your Old Bulbs with LED's
I've been tracking the "bulb wars" for about five years now as technology has disrupted this area of our home. From the beginning it was clear to me that incandescents are lovely gas guzzlers, CFL's poisonous and buggy replacements, and LED's were amazing but way too expensive at $20-$40. Well, change has been coming fast as manufacturers have been working hard to not get left in the dust, aided by government initiatives like Energystar, and this year has seen the first LED bulb for under $10 by Cree, who sells through Home Depot (full disclaimer - Cree recently hired me to pitch LED's for them, and I happily did so. They are a 25 year old American company who has only ever made LED's, mainly for commercial use).
Cree's LED bulbs use only 16% of the energy of a typical incandescent (this means they will pay back the bulb investment in a year) and they last 25 times longer (over ten years). This means that if you start replacing your old bulbs with LED's as they burn out, you will start saving money on your electric bills immediately.
3. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans
This is the simplest tip of the lot and sort of the neatest in terms of neat discoveries. While most of us consider ceiling fans a solution for warm weather, they are also excellent cold weather solutions as well as they will help to circulate warm air that lives near the ceiling downward into your room.
Most every ceiling fan has a little switch on the side that reverses the direction of the blades to clockwise, which pulls air up instead of pushing it down. If you flick the switch and run your fan on low during the winter months, it will gently pull the cooler air up from the "living level" where we are and push it up to the ceiling where the warmer air is, forcing that warm air back down along the walls to the "living level". This has the effect of using your warm air far more efficiently. Your thermostat will now keep the room at the same heat level while drawing on your heater less often.
4. Install a Low-Flow Showerhead
For those of you who pay for your water, this is another no-brainer. Low flow shower heads used to be ugly, uncomfortable affairs. Sure, they saved water, but the stream these things shot at your skin felt like glass shards and barely kept you warm. Nowadays the technology has greatly improved to the point that the new designs are attractive and the water performance totally pleasing. AND they save tons of water.
For example, I replaced the showerhead in my rental apartment with a Hansgrohe Croma Showerhead which feels just lovely and uses 60% less water by mixing air into the water stream. I love a long hot shower, and shower heads like these not only make me feel better about it, they allow the hot water to last a lot longer. :)
5. Replace the Weatherstripping on Your Doors
This is the least romantic of my tips, but perhaps the most important. No matter what good things you do, the most money you could save would be to stop the hot air from leaving your house. All homes leak and plugging those leaks is job number one if you want to cozy up your living space. Calking around windows is great, but I think focusing on replacing weather stripping around doors is where you'll get the biggest bang for the buck.
Our family house in the country has gaps below every door where the weather stripping is supposed to make a tight seal and it wears totally away after a few years. These long thin cracks are equivalent to having a large hole in your door with cold air rushing in.
Replacing stripping is an easy weekend task and can save you 30% in heating bills. Take a trip to the hardware store with your old weather stripping in hand and you'll have its replacement and any extra instructions you may need in one quick trip.
6. Install Curtains!
In working with clients for many years, I discovered that very few young people like curtains. There's something about them that seems old fashioned and they LOVE maximizing the sunlight that comes in their windows. Pshaw, I say. Curtains are a super cool way of adding color, texture and great acoustics to a room, AND they need not impinge on your light at all. More than this, however, they can add a great layer of insulation to your windows.
In old days curtains were mainly NOT decorative; they were completely for insulating cold houses as single paned glass windows have the least ability to keep out cold air. Curtains were used not only over windows, but also along walls to great affect.
So, consider your heating issues an opportunity to make a decorative investment in your home with curtains. Good thick curtains from floor to ceiling will keep things toasty when drawn at night, and they can also keep your home cool during the summer if you draw them in the daytime when you are away.