Handyman’s Advice to Take the Bite Out of Winter Heating Costs

by Jamie Simmerman · 5 comments

We’re experiencing an extended “mud season” here in Ohio, but the unusually warm above-freezing weather has many of us Northerners plotting ways to prepare for the inevitable Big Chill that’s sure to hit any day now. Winter heating costs in the cooler states can be downright brutal for some homeowners, especially if you live in an older, draftier house or apartment. Here are four tips from an experienced handyman to help take the bite out of your winter heating costs that can be used by everyone – even those who live in the mild south.

4 Ways to Take the Bite out of Winter Heating Costs

  1. Replace the filter on your furnace regularly. Inspect, clean, and replace your furnace filter at least once a month during the wintertime. You can also use a portable air compressor or a soft brush to clean the “squirrel cage” on your furnace’s blower motor. This cage protects the motor and often collects dust, lint, and debris that inhibits the operation of the motor. Cleaning the cage and fan and replacing the filter will help your furnace use less electricity.
  2. Seal up cracks in older heating ducts with duct tape or professional foil air duct tape. Inspect your heating ducts when the weather turns cold and again anytime you notice increased furnace usage. Small animals often seek shelter in cooler weather and will perch on top of warm air ducts in crawl spaces and basements when possible. Often, this increased critter traffic can dislodge air ducts, allowing your precious heating dollars to escape instead of heating your living space. Replace or repair any damaged ductwork ASAP.
  3. Update your home’s thermostat to a programmable device if possible. These newer thermostats allow you to set a desired temperature (preferably 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit for better efficiency) and maintain that temperature at a constant rate. This helps regulate the load on your furnace when the outside temps drop, while maintaining a comfortable temperature inside. Don’t position your thermostat near a heat source, external door, or in direct sunlight as this can interfere with the device’s ability to accurately regulate temperatures throughout your home.
  4. Pay attention to the humidity levels in your home. Even a warm house can feel uncomfortable if the air is drafty and moist, causing occupants to turn up the heat. Use a dehumidifier in wet basements and in living spaces to control excess humidity when needed. In turn, overly dry conditions can become uncomfortable and cause health issues as well. Simple interventions like placing cans of water inside or on top of heat registers can help regulate the humidity levels in your home. You can purchase a humidifier or a barometer to help monitor humidity if your budget allows.

The old advice of sealing up drafty cracks and windows, closing off unused living space for the winter, and turning down the thermostat a few degrees at night can all help you save a few bucks on your winter costs as well. In addition, lower income families can call the Department of Job and Family Services to find out how to receive an energy efficiency consultation by a trained professional. If your winter heating bills are significantly high, you can also contact your gas or electric company to discuss budgeting options that allow you to pay more during warm summer months to offset the increased cost of winter heating.

Do check out these 20 frugal family winter activities too, so you can have fun and save even more during the winter!

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  • Aaron says:

    These are great tips. A precautionary thing we have done too – living in the midwest – is to make sure we have proper insulation in the attic. Last year it may have caused an ice dam that visited our house and so we made sure to get the insulation up to code. Hoping that never happens again!

  • Jean says:

    Really good tips. We can do so much to save money on power usage and maintenance costs of equipment if we just effect timely measures such as these.


  • Kathryn C says:

    Timely! I got my bill last night and almost had a heart attack. I live in southern california but for some reason still need a lot of heat in my place.

  • The Frugallery says:

    In the past I’ve also used plastic to cover the windows and keep the drafts out. I also put a heating blanket on the bed so that turning the furnace down a couple degrees at night doesn’t cause as much discomfort. Every little bit helps!

  • Joe Morgan says:

    I’ve done all of the above except #4. We have forced air heat in our home, which makes for extremely low humidity in the winter. We also have an open floor plan, which makes room-based humidifiers less efficient.

    I’m considering adding a whole-house humidifier to the furnace, but I’ve heard some horror stories about mold growing in the duct work if things get too humid.

    Has anyone heard similar stories? Is that an extreme, or rare case? Any alternative ideas?

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