These Little Tips Can Save You Money on Your Heating Bill, According to Real Estate Agents

published Jan 4, 2023
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I’ve never fainted in my life, but I came close to doing so recently when I received the first heating oil bill of the year. My knees buckled and the air around me grew hazy. Ah, the woes of being a homeowner in the Northeast as another winter approaches!

I know I’m not the only one whose heating bill causes consternation. But aside from moving someplace with a more reasonable climate in the wintertime — sorry, my husband and I aren’t ready to be snowbirds yet — we’re stuck paying hefty energy costs to stay warm. 

Or are we? I decided to check in with some real estate agents experienced in making old, drafty homes look warm and inviting to buyers. Good news: There’s more than one way to save money on heating bills. Keep reading to see what those pros had to say.

Improve Your Insulation

Real estate agents might be all about location, location, location, but when it comes to saving on energy bills, it’s about insulation, insulation, insulation.

“Insulation is crucial to cut down on energy bills,” says Cam Dowski, real estate investor and founder of WeBuyHousesChicago.co. “If the house doesn’t have insulation in the attic, the warm air inside will escape via the roof. If your boiler has to work more to provide heat, your heating bills will go up.”

Maureen McDermut is a Realtor in Santa Barbara and Montecito, California, where she has helped many clients sell historic homes that are big on charm, but not so much on energy efficiency. One of the first things I suggest is having an insulation contractor come out and insulate the attic,” she says. “Most homes have very little insulation in the attic, or at least not enough to be energy-efficient.” Of course, homeowners in her neck of the woods don’t have to contend with frigid winters. But insulation can keep your house warm and cool, depending on the season.

Credit: Carina Romano

Install a Smart Thermostat

“Installing an adjustable, programmable thermostat is the single most important thing that homeowners can do to save money on heating bills,” says Jon Sanborn, a licensed real estate agent in San Diego and cofounder of SD House Guys, a home buying firm. 

A smart thermostat makes it easy to program temperature schedules as well as make adjustments from your smartphone or tablet. Some smart devices can even “learn” your temperature preferences and do the programming for you. This is not about being too lazy to walk over to the device to raise or lower the heat. It’s about setting up an automated system so that the heat kicks on only when you’re at home and awake, not when you’re away or asleep under warm covers. 

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save up to 10 percent of your energy bill by dialing back your heat seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day. That might seem like a big temperature swing if you’re on the chilly side, but the point here is to lower the heat to some degree (no pun intended) when you don’t need it as much. 

“Your home can lose the slightest heat possible if you heat only when necessary,” says Dowski. “So if you are looking to maximize your central heating energy efficiency (and save some money), then you are probably better off only using the heating when needed.

When you install a smart thermostat, you’ll not only save on energy bills, but you’ll recoup your costs on the device itself rather quickly. They range in price, but it’s possible to get a good one for under $100. If you’ve already got a common wire (C-wire) in your home, you might even be able to install a smart thermostat yourself. Not sure which wire is which? It’s always best to call in a professional electrician before you start messing around with your home’s electrical system.

Service Your HVAC System

Part of the reason for my near-fainting spell over our heating bill was that in addition to getting the tank filled up, we swapped our old oil burner for a new, more energy-efficient version. But we already see an improvement in the way our house heats, so it’s money well spent. 

While we won’t save per gallon — oil prices are what they are — the serviceperson did say our savings would come by less oil used. So far, so good. I’ve been checking the gauge and see that our oil heater is sipping rather than gulping fuel this season.

If you’re not in a position to upgrade your HVAC system, at least get it serviced. We pay for a service plan that allows for an annual maintenance check — the company actually calls to remind us to book the appointment — along with free service calls if needed. If your energy company offers a service plan, purchase it for peace of mind this winter. 

Other Small Fixes Can Pay Off Big Time

Sam Sawyer, founder of cloud brokerage Pinnacle Realty Advisors, offers the following tips that should be added to every homeowner’s seasonal task list:

  • Seal all doors and windows properly
  • Change air filters to keep your HVAC working at optimum levels
  • Insulate exposed pipes, especially those on the exterior of the home

“These are all minor but very important things to consider when buying an older property,” says Sawyer. “Collectively, it can save the homeowner thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches.”

Not sure which windows are the culprits? Call in a pro to evaluate, says McDermut. “While we don’t get cold weather often [in Southern California], we do have heat, and your air conditioning can leak out of a poorly sealed window just the same,” she says.

Or, you could just hang up heavier curtains, says Dowski. “Look for thermally lined curtains, or line your existing ones with inexpensive fabric to achieve the same effect,” he says. (I’ve got thermal curtains in some rooms in my home and they work remarkably well to prevent heat loss.

Doing even one of these tasks is enough to make a difference in your home’s energy efficiency. But the more you do, the more you’ll start saving on your heating bill. And that’s enough to make any homeowner feel warm and fuzzy inside.