When the weather outside gets particularly frightful, plenty of us like to bundle up inside — preferably with a warm mug of tea and a classic movie on TV. Winter in Chicagoland means more time spent in the great indoors. And often, spending more time inside means higher utility bills through the months of December, January, and February.
What can you do to stay warm, safe, and comfortable this winter, without running up an energy bill that will make you sweat? Here are eight easy steps to increase your home’s energy efficiency during the chilliest days of the year:
1.) Weather-Proof Your Windows
Windows are one of the main sources of heat and energy loss in households across Chicagoland — particularly in older homes with vintage architectural features. Throughout the winter months, you can stop losing heat and energy by taking some time to inspect your windows. If you notice a draft, seal up any gaps or cracks around the window frame with caulk or weatherstripping. You can also add a heavy-duty clear plastic film to the inside of your windows, to help conserve heat, or stop drafts dead in their tracks with insulating drapes or energy-efficient shades.
2.) Keep the Heat Inside
This winter, you can reduce your energy use by thinking strategically about how you’re using your space. For example? One quick fix is to close doors to rooms you’re not using, so you can trap heat in the spaces that are most important to you. Other small adjustments include opening the oven door after you’re done baking, to release the heat through to the rest of your space. You may also want to avoid running exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom too frequently, as these can draw warm air up and out of your home.
If a room has a ceiling fan, you can also use this handy fixture to circulate warm air. Reverse the direction on your ceiling fan, and it will draw up warm air and keep it flowing down through the rest of the space. Make sure that vents and radiators are clear and unobstructed, and consider using solar energy to your advantage. You can do this by opening curtains on south-facing windows during the day to let in warming sunlight, and then closing all curtains and blinds at night.
3.) Fill In Any Gaps or Cracks
Could small gaps or holes in your home be letting warm air escape? Look for areas throughout your space where air may be trickling out, including utility cut-throughs for plumbing and electrical systems, recessed lights, and the spaces behind cabinets. Feel around for cold spots or drafts, and consider using an infrared thermometer to get readings in hard-to-reach places. If you notice troubling gaps, you may be able to fill up these cracks with a sealant, such as caulk or foam. Make sure your attic and basement are properly insulated, and consider adding extra insulation, as necessary.
Finally, don’t forget to check for drafts and gaps around windows and doors. If you notice cracks or seams around your door or window frames, add caulk to seal up the spaces. You may also want to add weatherstripping under your doors, if you notice a wide space at the bottom. For a true DIY solution, you could even roll up a towel to stop up the underside of a door.
4.) Get Your Fireplace Ready for Winter
Fireplaces are meant to keep your home feeling warm and cozy — but in many houses, these winter staples are one of the most common culprits of heat loss. To minimize the amount of warm air you lose to your fireplace and chimney, try to keep your fireplace damper closed during the times when there’s no fire burning. If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
When you do use your fireplace, reduce the amount of heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox. Consider lowering the thermostat setting whenever you start a fire, to help cut back on your energy usage. You might also want to consider adding finishes that allow you to keep air from escaping through the fireplace, like adding tempered glass doors, a grate, or a heat-air exchange system. Make sure your fireplace’s flue damper is sealed and snug. And as with your doors and windows, double-check the areas around your fireplace and add caulk to any seams or gaps in the hearth or masonry, as necessary.
5.) Optimize Your Heating Systems
One of the most effective ways you can lower your energy use — and your hefty wintertime utility bills — is to keep your thermostat set to a lower temperature. When you’re present, set the thermostat a degree or two lower than you would normally. When you’re gone, or asleep, consider lowering your home’s temperature by 10 to 15 degrees. If you do this for eight hours a day, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that you can save around 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills. To make these adjustments easier, you may want to invest in a smart thermostat, which allows you to program the temperature to change or adjust automatically throughout the day.
Otherwise, it helps to take good care of your HVAC systems. Have your heating system inspected and serviced by a professional before the winter weather really settles in, and be sure to regularly change your furnace or boiler filters to keep up a healthy flow of clean air. If you have vents and a forced-air system, make sure that your vent covers are clear and free of dust and debris.
6.) Take a New Look at Your Lighting
Dark, gray winter days call for lots of warm, comforting lights. To keep your home glowing without causing your electrical bills to skyrocket, consider swapping out conventional lightbulbs with LEDs, which use significantly less energy while lasting longer than fluorescent bulbs. Research has shown that you may be able to save up to $75 on energy bills each year, simply by making this switch in your five most-used light sources. Similarly, if you love to decorate for the holidays, consider using LED string lights and decorations, which can create a festive glow while using a lot less energy than their old school counterparts.
7.) Conserve Hot Water
Taking a hot shower or bath can be a great way to warm up on a frosty winter day — but it’s important to take steps to make sure your plumbing is as efficient as can be! The Department of Energy recommends lowering the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months, when a little bit of warm water can go a long way.
To help reduce heat loss as water moves through your pipes, wrap your water heater and pipes with insulating plumbing wrap. This way, you won’t have to spend as much time waiting for water to warm up in the shower or sink.
If you do need to let your water run for a bit, trap this excess water in a bucket and find ways to reuse it around the house, such as providing water for your vibrant green houseplants). And if the winter weather traps you indoors, take advantage of your time inside to repair running toilets and dripping faucets. These simple fixes can make a huge difference. In fact, a faucet that drips just once per second can waste up to 2,777 gallons of water every year!
8.) Get Cozy — and Chic — with Blankets, Rugs, and Heavy Clothing
To lower your heating bills and save energy, dress warmly and help your home do the same! Add rugs to wooden or tile floors to trap heat in, and make it more comfortable to walk around. Break out your stash of fluffy blankets, throws, and pillows, so you feel warmer on the couch or in bed. And don’t be afraid to bundle up in sweaters, robes, or extra layers — whatever you can do to keep the heat lower, reducing your energy consumption along with your swelling winter utility bills.
Finding What Works for You
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Want to talk about other ideas for updating your Chicagoland home with a local real estate pro? Curious what features and design trends buyers are most interested in today? Ready to sell, or need help finding the home that’s going to be the right fit for you? At Baird & Warner, our agents are market experts who know all of the hottest happenings in Chicagoland. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, we’re here to help make buying and selling real estate easier, at every step of the way.