When I was in college, my housemates and I would go as long as we could without turning on the heat. The mission was simple: allow our home to become an arctic habitat where you could see your breath – all to save a little bit of money. November to January was always rough, to the point of never wanting to be home, but in February we always gave up and turned on the thermostat. Finally, our igloo was a home again.

Now, having gained a sense of responsibility when it comes to energy use and sustainability, I have another reason to save money on utilities. By saving money weatherizing your home, you are using energy efficiently and responsibly. Not only will you be living intentionally, conserving energy, and saving money, but you will also set yourself up to qualify for incentives offered by local and regional energy providers like VEC, EPB, and TVA. Weatherization saves families hundreds of dollars on their heating and cooling bills in the first year alone, reducing the nation's energy bills by more than $2 billion annually. 

Before you start sealing up the drafts and putting a jacket on your hot water heater, there’s something that you should do first: a Home Energy Audit. TVA offers a free Home Energy Audit that you can fill out online. Once completed, TVA will send you a free report, along with a free energy conservation kit that includes several great items to start you off. Another DIY audit can be found here, and TVA's EnergyRight Solutions will be launching a new home evaluation program soon, conducted by trained experts. 

Here are five simple methods to get your home ready for winter’s cold. In order to make it easier and save you time, I’ll include links to the best deals, current statistics, and nifty DIY instructions.

1. Fine tune your water heater

Your hot water heater is generally the second largest energy user in the home. A family of four each showering five minutes a day can use about 700 gallons per week—a three-year drinking water supply for one person. Water-conserving showerheads and faucet aerators can cut hot water use in half. That family of four can save 14,000 gallons of water a year and the energy required to heat it. 

If you check your water heater, you'll probably find that it's set to 140°F. Not only could this be a scalding risk for small children, but each 10°F reduction will generally save 3-5% on your water heating costs. To do this, find a comfortable setting between 110-120°F and enjoy the savings. Informative instructions can be found here.

One extra step would be insulating your water heater with a 'jacket'.These can be found online for less than $30. 

2. Maintain your heating units

Space heating is the largest energy expense in the average American home: 35-45% of your bill. Clean your filters monthly, and change them as needed. Three general filter types are used with a home heating system – disposable, washable and electrostatic. You can find details on how to care for the type filter you use hereBring in a specialist once a year to service and check out your heating unit. The more smoothly it runs, the more efficient it will be. 

You should also set your ceiling fans to spin clockwise. This will circulate warm air that rises up and sits at the ceiling. 

Check out this amazing infographic for more information on home heating efficiency.

3. Keep the bought air in and the cold air out

Did you know: in the average American home there are enough air leaks and drafts to add up to a 2'x2' hole. That would be equivalent to leaving a medium sized window open, 24 hours per day. Infiltration is the largest and most preventable loss when it comes to energy efficiency in the home. Because of the way pressure works, cold air is sucked into a home through drafts and cracks. By doing a thorough exam on your home's sills, walls, windows, etc. you will be able to keep the warm in and the cold out. Follow these steps to test for air leakage in your home. 

4. Now that you've sealed, insulate!

It wouldn't make sense to insulate before you had identified the leaks and cracks in your home, which is why #3 and #4 are two different steps. Now that you've located air leakage, it's time to seal up the 'envelope'. Use caulk to fill in cracks at windowsills or any space less that 1/4" thick. For a space greater than this, consider expanding foam sealant, crack filler, or weatherstripping. For tips on choosing the right caulk, check here or here

If you have a fireplace, check and make sure that it is well sealed. That is, of course, if it's not in use. Ductwork should also be insulated, as often there are losses occuring you may not be aware of. Always make sure you are insulating with the proper materials, or calling a professional when you need advice. Wall plugs and light switches should be insulated with seals

Windows are black holes for escaping heat, but if you have the right windows, or even insulate older, single-pane windows properly, you will notice a large difference. There are many options for insulating windows, though most people probably think of window film first. Window film can improve the U-factor/R-value of your windows, but keep in mind that it will affect visibility, and you may not like the aesthetics. Other options would be blinds, drapes, shades, or shutters. Good heavy drapes in front of blinds can help a lot. My sister used to have a large, glass front door that was stealing so much heat from her apartment. We had heard of a bubble wrap method, and so we tried it out. Check it out here.  

Doors should have the classic draft stoppers on the bottom and tight seals within the frame. Here's a test: shut your door on a dollar bill; if you can pull it out without dragging resistance, you're losing air through that door. A really cool project for the kids, or even yourself, would be making your own custom draft stopper, or 'door snake'. 

5. Buy a programmable thermostat

Instead of turning off the thermostat, like we tried to do in college, invest in a programmable thermostat that will save you around 2% for each degree you give up. In the summer, try to set it as close to 78°F as you can, and even warmer when you're out of the house for a while. In the winter, shoot for 68°, and lower when you're sleeping or away. Always keep in mind the possibility of freezing pipes if you turn your heating off. The better solution, according to the EPA, is to program the thermostat to drop during vanancy; but never below freezing. 

I did some research, and one of the most well-reviewed and well-priced thermostats is well within the price range of anyone who makes a daily stop at Starbucks. Look for it here, and compare it to others here

There is much more that you could do, apart from these ideas, to winterize and weatherize your home. These, however, are some of the first steps you should take. I would even suggest that you should take them in this order. After all, how are you going to insulate before you've checked for leakage? As you continue making your home more energy efficient, pursue incentives with TVA, EPB, and VEC. Cleveland Utilities offeres rebate for new energy efficient homes. Tell other people about the changes you made and the difference in what you pay. 

Finally, consider this: Tennesee's home energy consumption is 33% higher than the national average. We can help bring that down. 

 

Resources

TVA EnergyRight Solutions: Choosing a Hot Water Heater

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Home Energy Saver

Energy.gov

Top Ten Reviews: Thermostats

Cleveland Utilities

Tennessee State Profile and Energy Estimates

Benefits.gov

VEC Home Energy Library