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5 quick ways to reduce your heating bills

Stop drafts and turn down the heat to save money on utilities this winter. (Shutterstock)
Stop drafts and turn down the heat to save money on utilities this winter. (Shutterstock)
By Debbie Carlson Chicago Tribune

Heating bills are looming large. Check out these five tips to quickly cut your energy costs without sacrificing comfort.

1. Stop leaks

Drafty rooms suck (the heat out of your home). Single-pane, older windows without reliable storm windows can lose heat quickly, so use plastic sheeting – like the 3M Window Kit – to seal them. If drafts are coming in around the frame, fill those with caulking.

Sealing leaks around windows and doors will instantly raise the comfort level in the room and save money, said Keri Murschell, director of product and business innovation for NRG Energy. Your front door can be a big culprit, so add weather stripping. Heat gets pulled from attics and escapes out the front, something she discovered at her home after an energy audit.

Matt Sundeen, store manager at Lowe’s Wicker Park location in Chicago, said light switches can be an unseen source of cold air. Products like White Foam Outlet Switch Weatherstrips fit behind the wall plate to prevent drafts.

While you’re at it, give your water heater a hug by wrapping it in an insulation blanket. “Cold basements make water heaters work harder, increasing everyday energy use,” Sundeen said. “It’s cheap and a quick, easy way to cut back on your heating bill,” he said.

2. Get smart

Smart thermostats, like the Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee, can reduce heating bills by learning your schedule and programming temperatures around your activity. Murschell said she likes being able to access her thermostat on her phone when she’s away, so if she forgets to turn it down before leaving for vacation – or wants to raise the heat before she returns – she can do so remotely.

“It also gives you reports on how you’re doing, what your energy history is like and other insights into energy that people haven’t traditionally had to think about,” she said.

Although smart thermostats are still pricey, many utilities are offering rebates to homeowners who want one, and some even install the devices if purchased through the utility.

If you want to measure your total energy usage, a professionally installed home energy monitoring system, like Sense, will monitor all your electricity usage and give you choices of how and when to use energy smartly.

3. Turn down the temps

The U.S. Energy Department says setting your thermostat to 68 F when you’re at home and active, and then lowering it when you sleep saves money. Lowering the thermostat 7-10 degrees for eight hours daily from its normal setting can save as much as 10 percent a year, on average, depending on where you live.

4. Heat just a small space

Work from home, but don’t want to heat the whole house all day? Consider a single-room space heater. New space heaters can be much more stylish – and many are programmable, which means they use less energy. Sundeen says an attractive option is the Lasko 1500-Watt Ceramic Tower Electric Space Heater, which has a seven-hour auto-off timer. Freaking out because you left the house with the space heater running? Relax. Use a smart plug like iHome to turn it off with your phone and you won’t have to worry about burning down the house.

5. Layer up

Now that you’ve saved money on heating bills, splurge on a beautiful cardigan or gorgeous throw. Sure it’s an old-fashioned way to stay warm, but you get a twofer, being both stylish and practical.

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