It’s hard to believe it but November is here and that means winter is right around the corner.  This time of year often means families across the United States are burdened with additional expenses ranging from holiday shopping and travel to higher electricity bills. With harsh winter forecasts predicted for many parts of the country, it’s likely that many Americans will feel an increased pinch from heating costs this year.  After all, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting that more than 90 percent of homes in the United States will have higher heating costs this winter in comparison to last year.

According to the EIA, homes using natural gas for heat will pay about $679 – 13% higher than a year ago, but still 4% below the average for the previous five winters. Homes relying on electricity for heat, about 38% of the U.S., will likely pay about 2% more for heat compared with last year.

For a family on a fixed budget these increased costs are no small matter.  However, the good news is that there are very simple steps you can take to limit weatherdriven increases in your family’s energy bills. Whether you rely on heating oil, natural gas or electricity to heat your home these energy saving tips are easy to accomplish, don’t require any professional assistance and will help you reduce your family’s energy budget this winter season.

So, as much of the nation prepares for a blustery, chilly and snow-filled winter, be sure to implement these easy fixes before your energy costs go up as the thermometer goes down.

From the U.S. Department of Energy:

  • Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
  • When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours and save around 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills.
  • Add caulk or weather-stripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.
    • Water heating can account for 14% to 25% of the energy consumed in your home. Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You’ll not only save energy, you’ll avoid scalding your hands.
    • No need to skimp on holiday decorations.  Just be sure to use light-emitting diode — or “LED” — holiday light strings to reduce the cost of decorating your home.

The California Energy Commission also offers a few good suggestions:

  • Shorten showers. Simply reducing that lingering time by a few minutes can save hundreds of gallons of hot water per month for a family of four. Showers account for 2/3 of your water heating costs. Cutting your showers in half will reduce your water heating costs by 33 percent.
  • Use appliances efficiently. Do only full loads when using your dishwasher and clothes washer. Use the cold water setting on your clothes washer when you can. Using cold water reduces your washer’s energy use by 75 percent.

Other helpful hints include:

  • Use ceiling fans to circulate warm air.  Most ceiling fans can reverse their direction.  By reversing your ceiling fan to a clockwise rotation the fan will help move warmer pooled near the ceiling back into the living space. This can cut your heating costs by as much as 10%!
  • Keep doors closed to rooms you aren’t using, especially those with an exterior wall.  Doing so will make home heating more efficient and will require less energy to keep heavily used parts of your home comfortable.

These are just a few tips that can help you save money while keeping your family comfortable during this winter season.  To learn about more tips visit the Department of Energy’s home weatherization website and stay tuned to the Energy Voice in the coming weeks and months.