Winter is coming — which may sound like sweet relief after a summer blistered by record-scorching temperatures and catastrophic droughts. But the fact is, in many of those same sizzling areas, residents will be digging themselves out of snowdrifts soon enough. And autumn, with its changing colors, is the season for fortifying your home against the cold months to come.
Why not start now ahead of schedule? And since you have time, why not do more than just a hurried inspection of your property, and perform the updates needed to make your home as energy efficient as possible? After all, nothing burns energy — and fuel — like keeping warm in the winter. By taking eco-friendly steps to conserve, you will be helping the environment — and your bank account.
Insulate your home with green alternatives
Insulation is key to any energy-efficient home regardless of the season since it also reduces the need for cooling during the summer. Yet, for decades, despite its soundproofing and energy-saving benefits, insulation has also been known for its toxic materials (asbestos!) and harmful impact on human health. That’s changing now, however, as the industry experiments with more sustainable alternatives. Among them:
- Denim: Stuff your walls with your old blue jeans. Well, not quite. Denim insulation consists of recycled jeans combined with post-industrial denim and cotton. However, there are online tutorials for making your own blue jean insulation for the truly intrepid. It isn’t practical for larger projects, but it could make for a worthwhile experiment.
- Cellulose: Cellulose is not only common in new home construction projects, but it’s much more environmentally friendly than fiberglass. Made from recycled newsprint, denim, and other materials, cellulose is also biodegradable.
- Sheep’s wool: Sheep’s wool is sustainable, fireproof, and dense enough to dampen sound. Although sheep’s wool is attractive to insects — and therefore treated with chemicals to make it resistant — one manufacturer is reported to have developed a biocide-free method that keeps the wool from being consumed by insects.
- Cork: Another popular choice is cork, mainly for its excellent thermal properties. It’s also renewable and recyclable — and will outlast most other types of insulation.
Cover windows and doors
If you want to reduce your heating costs — and carbon footprint — the simplest solution is to keep heat from escaping your home. Start by inspecting the doors and windows — both notorious sources of drafts. Installing storm doors and windows is one option that can cut your energy bill by almost half. If that’s too ambitious, look around your home for materials that could be repurposed — from old blankets to construction materials. Even hanging an old, heavy curtain in front of the front door can make a difference.
Sometimes a simple — and low-tech — solution is also one of the most effective. For instance, did you know that planting evergreens near your home and installing a windbreak can chop your energy bill by a third?
Redirect your ceiling fans
If you have ceiling fans, set them to run clockwise. That will recirculate the heated air from the ceiling — remember, heat rises — and push it through your home. It’s a simple way to save energy and cut costs.
Invest in an energy monitorOf course, saving on energy costs is hard when you don’t know exactly how much energy you are using. So, you may want to consider one of many “home energy management systems” on the market that can tell you in real time just how much power your house is using. These devices are hooked up near the power meter, from where they transmit the information to a wireless receiver. If you want a less intensive energy audit, try contacting your power company for an assessment. They may be able to tell you the changes your home needs to make to save on energy costs.
Buy a smart thermostatWith your phone or tablet, you can control your smart thermostat and schedule its settings. That way, when no one is going to be home, you can set the thermostat lower, then have it warm the home just in time for your return. Better yet, the device picks up on your preferences and adjusts accordingly.
Maintain your furnace
You'll save energy and time by ensuring your furnace is in great shape. Schedule it for a routine checkup — including a filter change — once a year, preferably just before the temperature begins to drop.
Flip the switch on LED bulbs
We all know the benefit of LED bulbs over incandescent bulbs — they last twice as long and are wildly more efficient. In other words, they will reduce your energy bill considerably. But they are also well-suited for freezing temperatures since they aren’t compromised by the cold.
Update that winter wardrobe
When most people think about conserving energy, it means turning off lights when they leave a room or using a power strip to turn off electronics that are not in use. While these are both excellent ways to conserve, another way to significantly make an impact is to dress warmly at home. Opting for a sweater and an extra pair of socks will not only save energy but cut your costs. So, as soon as you’re chilly, reach for a blanket instead of the thermostat. And when it’s time to do a wash, consider your choice of laundry detergent. Harsh chemicals in a plastic jug or eco-friendly detergent strips that come in biodegradable packaging?