As temperatures drop and we brace ourselves for another harsh Michigan winter, it can be tempting to just crank up the thermostat and deal with high utility bills. But there are many things we can do to keep our feet warm, our homes cozy, and our bills manageable, while also being good stewards of creation.
Here are 9 cheap or free things you can do this winter to save on energy.
1. Install and learn how to use a programmable thermostat.
Heating and cooling cost more money and use more energy than any other system in your home, typically making up about 50% or your utility bill. Using a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust temperatures with changes in the season and your schedule can save 10%+. The newest generation of “smart thermostats” can “learn” your habits and adjust accordingly, while also allowing you to set temperatures remotely. But a $20 no-frills programmable thermostat with 7-day settings will also get the job done. Bottom line: by turning your furnace down by several degrees when you’re away at work, sleeping, or out of town for the holidays, you can save a significant amount of energy without compromising comfort. (Again, you must know how to use and adjust the device in order to reap the benefits.)
2. Clean or replace HVAC air filters as recommended (usually every 1-3 months).
Dirty filters not only waste energy, they also overwork your furnace (which can mean more frequent and expensive repairs) and lead to poor indoor air quality.
3. Install doorsweeps.
Doorsweeps keep the heat in and the cold drafts out! This is a very inexpensive measure that not only saves energy, but boosts comfort.
4. Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows.
This is another measure to reduce air leakage. There are lots of different kinds of caulk to suit your needs—some types last for years, while others are pliable and removable.
5. If your windows are old, single-pane, or particularly drafty, put up plastic inside.
These “interior storm” windows are sturdy, reusable, and available to Michigan IPL members at a 10% discount (use the code “SHOPIPL” during checkout). Not only does the plastic layer stop air infiltration, it also adds an air barrier, which acts like insulation for your windows.
6. Get rebates for your energy-saving upgrades.
Your local utility provider will actually give you rebates for installing certain efficiency upgrades (from lighting to refrigerators to furnaces). Especially if you are replacing something major, be sure to save your receipts, check out the rebates online and apply!
7. Learn how to read your utility bill and monitor your energy use before and after making efficiency upgrades.
Looking forward to your savings and thinking about what to do with them can be a great motivator to help you keep going. If you are doing energy efficiency in your house of worship, maybe energy savings mean putting more resources into your mission work. If you are tracking your household savings, maybe you’ll look forward to planning a fun family activity. Choose something special and meaningful to you to help maintain your motivation to conserve!
8. Hang dry your laundry, at least some of the time.
If it’s laundry day, and you’re doing the wash for your family of four, it’s probably impractical to hang dry everything indoors in the winter. But consider drying part of your laundry this way. Dryers are the 3rd most energy-intensive appliance in your home– after refrigerators and washing machines– so even skipping the dryer on just 1 load/week adds up. Plus, drying the wash on an accordion-style folding rack (or similar) doesn’t take up much space and has the additional benefit of adding humidity to very dry winter air. Skipping the dryer also just helps your clothes last longer. (Cleaning out your lint trap shows you just how much your fabrics are breaking down in the dryer.)
9. Observe an “energy Sabbath.”
One activity to try in a household or with a group is to observe an “energy Sabbath”—a day of rest and energy savings in which you turn off all non-essential electrical devices. See what it’s like to have fellowship with one another in candlelight, without the distraction of phones, tablets, etc. Cutting your electricity usage back on one day isn’t going to generate big, immediate savings, but it may help build awareness about the importance of energy conservation and how easy it can be to do it. Shifts in behavior and attitudes are key elements of energy conservation success.