It is now officially coat weather. The pros: hot cocoa, rosy cheeks, an extra hour of sleep. The cons: it’s cold. Turning the thermostat to a toasty temperature is easy enough, but keeping your house warm – and the electric bill low – is tricky, whether you live in southern Connecticut or northern California. Here’s a handy list of minor home adjustments that will have major benefits.
1. Rugs, rugs, rugs
This is a 2-in-1 savings boost – not only do large rugs prevent cold air from sneaking into your living space, they’re a great design element that can complete a room’s decor. Thickly woven cotton rugs are a good bet – their heft will insulate your room well. Shag rugs, if you can find a good one on the cheap (make sure it’s new – don’t play host to the previous owner’s dust mites/bacteria), are a smart mod addition. Either way, pick a colorful one – just because it’s dreary outside doesn’t mean your interior has to be.
2. Call the Electric Company!
No, not the one Mitt Romney will shut down if he becomes President; call your local utility company and request an audit. They’ll perform an inspection of your home, which will help them list problem spots where warm air might be escaping. Be sure to tell them about your energy habits: if you tend to be out for most of the day, the auditors will recommend a static thermostat setting when you’re not home. Also, have the inspectors check on your insulation – if there isn’t enough it may be impacting your electric bill.
3. Speaking of insulation…
If you’ve ever taken cover in your parents’ attic during hide-and-seek, then you’ve seen vaguely rectangular chunks of pink fluff. This is insulation – the dense material is a good conductor of heat. Since escaped heat can hike your bill by 30 percent, check the R-value of your insulation; the higher the value, the less likely heat is to escape.
4. The Reign of the Radiator
They might be ugly, but during a bitterly cold winter a radiator is your best friend. Radiators circulate warm air effectively, so don’t cover them up with pretty screens – that’ll just overwork your furnace. If you really can’t stand the sight of the poor thing, paint it so it blends with the wall (before you do, though, a) check whether your landlord okays the paint job, and b) don’t paint the radiator when it’s hot – duh).
5. Leak Freak
Check the following areas of your house: windows, underneath doors, corners, holes created for plumbing. Place your hand in front of the opening; if you feel air, that’s warmth slipping out of your rooms. Cracks in the attic and cuts made in the walls for light fixture installation will also rob you of heat. If the hole is fairly small you can seal it with silicon or latex caulk. But if the opening is large and you’re not sure what to do about it, call the electric company or someone handy – they’ll be able to recommend the right product.
8. This Place is on FIRE!
What I mean is, if you live in a home with an operative fireplace, use it! A crackling wood-burning fire is the spot for curling up with hot cocoa and a book. A few basics, though: don’t forget to open the flue; keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case something goes wrong; make sure the fire is out completely before you go to bed; and always always always sweep up the ashes. Your sinuses will hate you if, the next night, you set old ashes on fire.
9. Your Old Man Was Right
You know what I’m talking about: you or a sibling got caught upping the thermostat temperature, and your disgruntled dad ordered everyone to put on a sweater as he dialed it back to a callous, freezing 68. As it turns out, he was right – in the winter, a static temperature higher than 68 will cause an uptick in your monthly charges. So buy comfy animal-patterned socks, and a heavy sweater or two (personal favorite: sweatshirts of universities I didn’t attend) – the cold months will pass much more comfortably.