Thursday, November 4, 2010

Living Happily on a Shoestring: Energy Matters

by Christine Wilkinson

Cold dark days lie ahead. Don’t let them drain your soul or your wallet!

Now is the perfect time to make a few money-saving changes in your home. A simple start is to replace all of your light bulbs with Energy Star approved CFL bulbs (you know, the funky, swirly numbers). According to, if every American replaced just one bulb, it would save enough energy to light three million homes for a year while saving over $600 million in annual energy costs.

Another tip from Energy Star is to better seal your home, which can save as much as ten percent of your total energy bill. This entails fixing leaks and sufficiently insulating your home. The government’s advice is to: seal air leaks throughout the home to stop drafts, add more insulation, and choose Energy Star approved replacement windows. (You can learn more about this in my earlier column on the tax credits for which you can become eligible.) You can hire a contractor to do the work for you, or you can do it yourself (DIY) with some caulk, putty and sweat. Just click on the link to the Energy Star DIY guide.

These strategies are a wee bit too expensive for penny-pinching me. I need inexpensive changes. Last year, I found a slightly unorthodox tip on a tech blog. I used it and accomplished two things: I seriously reduced my heating bills while giving the neighbors something to talk about. The article said that if one couldn’t afford energy efficient windows (windows are the single biggest source of heat loss from a home), then an alternative was to create a warm bubble of air over the windows. This involved a spray bottle of water and bubble wrap. I sprayed each and every window and glass door in my house with a light film of water and then covered every inch with bubble wrap. I was skeptical that this trick would work. I was wrong: Not one piece of wrap fell all winter long. The chilly draft from my glass back doors immediately disappeared. And the inside of my house had a calming, almost fish-bowl effect. We became the Family in the Bubble (wrap) that everyone was talking about!

Another trick is to adjust the temperature on your water heater (and wrap it in an insulating blanket). You can reduce your costs up to five percent for every ten degrees you decrease the temperature. Different sources recommend different temperature settings, varying from 120 to 140 degrees. (If you go too low you run the risk of Legionella bacteria developing at the bottom of your tank, and that’s just scary).

On to heating! First, it’s always a good idea to have your furnace cleaned and inspected. Another easy and inexpensive cost-cutter is to change your air filters once a month. Obviously, turning down your thermostat is a no-brainer, even if only by a few degrees. It is recommended that you keep your heat set no higher than 68 degrees while you’re home and 55 degrees during the night and while you’re out of the house. If you can afford it, a programmable thermostat is also smart. (Why pay to keep your home toasty warm when you’re not in it?)

And I’ll sum up with perhaps two of the most obvious simple changes: set your dishwasher to air dry and use cold water when doing the wash.

If anyone knows of other tips, please (!) share by leaving a comment below.


Christine Wilkinson is a veteran middle school teacher, who holds a Master's degree in Education and is currently job hunting. Christine is also a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Raleigh News and Observer and most recently in the Washington Post. She has lived most of her adult life in the DC-Baltimore area, although she recently returned from a three year detour in the South (Raleigh, NC). She is married with a 7-year-old daughter, which prompts her to observe: "While I may be struggling in this economy, I lead a rich life blessed with a great family and amazing friends."

Christine welcomes your comments below.

1 comment:

  1. I want to add one more idea. A lot of people have rooms in the home that are mostly unused. Another good winter tip is to close the vents in those rooms, close the doors, and seal the openings at the bottom of the doors with towels. Again, why heat what you don't use? We did this last winter to two rooms in our house.
    Christine W.