How can I save money on heating costs?

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Answered by: Chris, An Expert in the Basics of Frugal Living Category
Keeping your house warm in the winter time is no small challenge. You're basically fighting the elements, which is an up hill struggle on its best day. There are a lot of different ways that you can save money on heating costs. The following list will outline and explain a few of the most powerful ways to do so. After all, it's best to score the big wins first, and then refine things steadily closer to "perfection."

Trying to start out with the details and work your way upward into the bigger wins will only leave you wasting time with miniscule, unimportant adjustments. Yes, everything is important, but the size of the problem creates its relative importance. This does involve some "do it yourself" elements, but they should be fairly easy for almost anyone to handle.

Your attic

If you go into your attic less than twice a year, you need to put down R-30 or R-38 insulation. Since heat rises, there is no better way to keep the heat you pay for than to insulate your attic. If you have a lot of tight spaces, blow in the insulation. If you have ample wide-open spaces, rolling out batts of insulation is usually the most cost effective method you can use. If you really want to be cheap, however, you can gather up old clothes from people who would otherwise be throwing them away, and cut them up into strips.

A thick pile of clothing strips will make your attic look like a psychedelic bird's nest, but it will insulate your home quite well for the cost. Just be warned that unless you throw an "insulation party" (a few pizzas and some friends sitting around cutting up old clothes into insulation strips), your hands will be as sore as those of a young Shaolin monk beginning his training.

Your windows

Some people say that 40% of energy loss occurs through windows. Basically, they're holes in the walls plugged with thin pieces of glass, which try desperately to stop the flow of heat. There are three things you can do to turn your windows into heat-holding juggernauts:

a. Get double or triple pane windows. Yes, they cost more. But you'll likely save enough in your first year to pay for the difference. In five years, you'll have put away enough to replace them again if need be. Since Low-e (short for low emission) glass doesn't cost much extra, spring for it. Anything you do to help an inferior quality window is essentially trying to put a band-aid on a gushing wound- so unless you don't own where you live, this step is paramount. And unless you've installed windows before, get a professional to do it. It's best to make mistakes on jobs that won't cost you (such as installing a window into an unheated garage), as opposed to having to live with your mistake for years.

b. Caulk the windows. $6 worth of caulk will save money on heating like you wouldn't believe. It may even pay for itself the first month. Considering that silicone caulk can last 50 years (also known as roughly 200 months of winter), this is a better investment than anything on Wall Street.

c. This may sound strange, but one of the best ways to expand the R-value (a measure of heat retention) of your windows is to cover them in bubble wrap. If you ever look at standard insulation, you'll notice that the R-value is usually in the 13 to 30 range. Every layer of bubble wrap you put over your windows (which will also grant you privacy and won't block much light) will add 1 R-value. If you want to get fancy and spend a few hours on it, you can put up a dozen layers, and make your windows more efficient than your walls.

Your doors

There are three places in your doors where heat escapes readily (assuming you don't have a window built into the door): the knob(s), the sides, and the bottom. While the bottom is technically a side, we'll get to how much different (and trickier) that is in due time. Let's run through how you can save money on heating by making your doors more efficient.

a. A lot of older homes have experienced some shifting. Within reason, this is no big deal. However, it can lead to doors which don't quite fit into their openings- and drafts. Holding a candle to the door will tell you where the drafts are better than anything else. Believe it or not, the best (and by far the easiest) solution to this problem involve cotton (which you can find at craft stores) and spray on adhesive (which can be found in hardware stores).

Just cut the cotton into strips of a length and width to keep out drafts, spray some adhesive onto the frame (and you will rue the day you put cotton on the door- fight the urge), and apply the cotton carefully. Once it's set, you can trim the cotton appropriately. You just have to watch out for being unable to close or lock the door. A good pair of scissors is your ally in this fight.

b. The bottom of your door can be a massive energy leakage. A $15 sweep (if you can install it yourself, which is very tricky) can pay for itself rapidly. This isn't just a cost matter, either- the temperature of your floor (and your level of comfort) is severely affected by the amount of cold air moving under your door. If you don't feel comfortable taking your door off of its hinges, hire this out to a contractor. Paying a few hundred dollars for it (or just getting a new door) will pay for itself within a few years, if only in a better quality of life.

c. Your door knob and dead bolt are essentially 2-inch holes in your door. The metal your locks are made of is not a good insulator, either. Fortunately, you can find small circles of insulation designed for going in your door knob openings (which won't affect their operation) at most hardware stores. At about $10, they will save you enough within one season to pay for themselves.

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