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Due to supply chain constraints and other factors, it'll cost Americans more to heat their homes this winter—a cold reality that could impact spending for your other household needs.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts bills for natural gas—the primary source of heat for nearly half of U.S. homes—will jump 30% during the winter of 2021-22 compared with the winter of 2020-21. The sticker shock could be even worse for homes heated mostly with propane (an expected 54% rise in winter heating bills) and heating oil (43%). Households heated primarily by electricity should be spared from a big rise in winter heating bills, as the federal agency forecasts just a 6% increase in costs for those consumers.
Regardless of how you heat your home, there are a number of ways to ease the pain of higher heating bills this winter and beyond.
How to Reduce the Impact of Higher Energy Costs Now
You can try some simple short-term steps to help you take the edge off winter heating costs. Here are eight of them.
Adding extra layers of clothing can help you warm up at home while putting less demand on your heating system. Even if it feels better to crank up the heat, consider using sweaters, jackets, socks, heavier pajamas or long underwear to help ward off the cold instead.
Address Drafty Doors and Windows
Look for door and window leaks that are letting warm air out and cold air in. Fixes for this include applying shrink-to-fit plastic wrap to windows, adding caulk or weatherstripping to doors and windows, or placing rolled towels at the bottom of outdoor-facing doors.
Reverse Your Fans
Set your ceiling fans on reverse mode to improve circulation of warm air that accumulates near the ceiling.
Check the Heating System
If parts of your heating system are broken or the vents are clogged with dust, the system might gobble up even more energy than it should. Before winter weather blankets your home, check the system for parts that should be replaced or dust that needs to be cleared out.
Let the Sunshine In
Opening curtains, blinds and shades when the sun is out can help heat your home, decreasing the burden on your home's heating system. Don't leave the curtains, blinds or shades open at night, though. Closing them when the sun is down can cut heat loss from a warm room by as much as 10%.
Lower the Thermostat
Turning down the thermostat at night by 10 to 15 degrees (and snuggling under an extra blanket) could drop your heating costs by as much as 10% a year. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting the wintertime thermostat at 68 degrees when you're awake and lowering it when you're asleep or away from home.
Exercising at home, taking on home improvement projects and engaging in other physical activities can keep you moving, which can warm you up.
Close Off Unused Rooms
During the winter, stick to rooms you frequently use and close off those that you can do without. Just be sure to close vents, shut curtains and block drafty air in the unused rooms to maximize this strategy.
How to Cut Energy Costs Over the Long Run
While you can embrace several short-term approaches to saving on winter heating bills, you also can take steps to decrease energy costs over the long run. Some solutions require a substantial investment, but are likely to pay off over time. Here are four of them.
Install a Smart Thermostat
Consider installing a smart thermostat to help cut energy costs during the winter and throughout the year. A smart thermostat lets you program your home's temperature settings for when you're there and when you're away. While a smart thermostat might cost $130 to $200 upfront, using one could save you around $180 a year in energy expenses.
Replace Outdated HVAC Equipment
If your HVAC system is getting up there in age, it might be time to replace it. This is especially true if the system is struggling to properly heat or cool your home. You can save substantially on energy costs if you replace old equipment with newer, energy-efficient equipment. For instance, an Energy Star-qualified furnace is 15% more efficient than a conventional furnace, according to the federal Energy Star program. That said, the cost to replace an HVAC system can start at more than $4,000, so you'll need to decide how serious the issue is and whether your budget can accommodate installing a new system.
Perform Regular Furnace Maintenance
If buying and installing a new HVAC system is out of reach financially, you can help prolong the life of your current system—and ensure it's performing as well as possible—by cleaning or replacing your furnace filter as necessary. Also consider having an HVAC professional do an annual maintenance check-up on your system. They can evaluate your furnace and air conditioning system (if you have both) for any issues and make needed repairs before bigger problems develop.
Replace Your Windows
Replacing single-pane windows with double-pane windows provides better insulation for your home. One estimate indicates double-pane windows can save as much as 24% on energy usage in cold climates compared with single-pane windows. Double-pane windows can cost you $600 or more each, however, so plan ahead if you'd like to fit this investment into your budget.
Putting insulation in the attic and other locations in your house can contribute to an average 15% reduction in heating and cooling costs. Installing attic insulation typically costs $1 to $7 per square foot.
What Can You Do if You're Having a Hard Time Paying Bills?
If you find yourself coming up short when it's time to pay monthly utility bills, including bills for heating your home, you may be able to find financial assistance. Here are a few places to start:
- Government programs: Various government programs are available to lend a hand if you're having trouble paying your energy bills. One of them is the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). State and local government agencies throughout the U.S. also sponsor energy assistance programs. To find a program in your area, call 211.
- Utility programs: Many utility providers offer payment plans or discounts to customers who aren't able to pay their bills. Some providers even team up with local nonprofits to provide additional assistance. Call your utility company to find out what assistance they may be able to offer.
- Credit counseling services: If you're behind on paying utility bills, then you might be finding it hard to pay all of your bills. In this case, consider seeking help from a nonprofit consumer credit counseling service. A credit counselor can guide you through managing your debt and developing a household budget to get your finances back on track.