How To Save Money on Utilities This Winter

How To Cut Spending on Utilities During Colder Weather

A person wrapped in a blanket relaxes by a window.
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As the winter arrives, you may be bracing for higher expenses related to the holidays, from shopping for gifts to hosting parties. But the cold season also brings another reason to mind your budget: spikes in utility costs.

When temperatures drop and daylight dims, you’ll likely face higher costs in heating, lighting, and other home adjustments.

Find out what can affect your utility budget in the winter, and learn how you can keep these expenses down each year.

Key Takeaways

  • Winter can bring high utility costs in home heating and lighting, as well as water heating.
  • A professional home-energy audit can help you figure out where you’re losing heat (and money).
  • You may be able to get financial assistance for high utility bills, but always pay your utility bill or discuss payment plans with your utility company.

Winter Can Be Expensive

Several factors can increase your bills in the winter. One of the main drivers for higher utilities costs is the rising cost of energy. The costs for heating your home make up about one-third of a typical utility bill.

The prices for natural gas, heating oil, propane, electricity, and other energy costs change based on supply and demand. So if a winter is particularly harsh with cold temperatures, demand for heat increases—which then can cause energy prices to rise.

Most homes in the U.S. heat with natural gas, which can change in price based on supply-and-demand trends. Electric heat, the second-most-common form of heating, often costs more than other heating choices.

Overall electricity demand, including for lighting and appliances, tends to be less responsive to temperature changes. Electricity costs are actually lower in winter than in summer. However, for homes that heat with electricity, the colder temperatures can have a significant effect on the amount used.

Utility costs can vary across the country due to variations in the basic utility price and state regulations. For example, electricity is almost four times more expensive in Hawaii than in Louisiana.

8 Tips To Lower Your Utility Bills Over Winter

Because winter can squeeze your utilities budget, consider these methods for reducing costs—from cranking up the thermostat to lowering your water heater’s temperature. 

Turn Down Heating Costs

During the winter, heating is generally the most significant percentage of utility costs. Keep your furnace running at peak efficiency by having it inspected at the beginning of the heating season. Replace filters monthly, and ensure warm-air registers and baseboard heaters are clean and not blocked by furnishings or drapes. Limit use of bath or kitchen ventilation fans, which can suck out your home’s warmed air.

Space heaters vary in efficiency, but portable electric heaters and fireplaces generally are not very efficient. Plus, overworking them can cause fires. Never use a gas oven for heating because they emit carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can poison or kill you at high levels.

Consider a smart or programmable thermostat you can “set and forget” or control with an app. Setting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees lower for eight hours per day can save you 10% on heating and cooling.

In winter, try setting the thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and lower at night. 

Unplug Vampire Electronics

Appliances and electronics such as TVs, computers, game consoles and device chargers can continue using electricity even when turned off. Just having these plugged in when you’re not using them can cost a typical household up to $200 in average costs per year.

Unplug charging devices or rarely-used electronics when not in use. Energy-saving power strips can rescue your electricity bill from “vampire loads” by turning off the power supply.

Cool Off Water-Heating Bills

Another major utility expense is from heating water, from both maintaining heat and heat lost from the tank into the room. Turning down your tank’s thermostat to 120 degrees from the typical manufacturer’s setting of 140 degrees could save an average household some $460 per year.

If you have an electric water heater that is warm to the touch or a heater older than 10 years, consider a water heater insulation jacket, which can help reduce heat loss. These simple warmers can save 7% to 16% in winter heating costs.

Setting your water-heater thermostat too low increases the risk of bacteria growth in your tank. Setting it too high increases the risk of scalding. Research the risks before adjusting your thermostat.

Illuminate Your Lighting Bill

Winter’s shorter days also means you’ll likely use your lights more. One easy way to reduce the cost of lighting your home is to replace incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs. An LED bulb uses at least 80% less energy and lasts up to 25 times longer. LEDs now come in dimmable, outdoor/indoor, and varying color temperatures, including the warm yellow associated with incandescent bulbs.

To cut back on the energy used by holiday lights, turn them on after sunset and off before going to bed.

Evaluate Your Appliance Use

Energy to power appliances such as a refrigerator or dishwasher comprises an average of 12% of a household’s utility bill. To reduce appliance energy consumption, consider turning down your fridge to about 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezer to 0 to 5 degrees. Wash and dry full loads, not partial loads. And consider air-drying laundry—or at least not over-drying it.

Your local utility company or city may offer rebates if you purchase ENERGY STAR appliances.

Dig Into Winter Landscaping 

If you have a large yard, strategically planting trees and shrubs can reduce cold winter winds and save money on a home’s energy costs. Choose vegetation with low crowns, such as dense evergreen trees and shrubs, and try clustering them to block the chill.

For maximum winter money-saving, plant trees or shrubs:

  • To the north and northwest of your home.
  • On the windward side, plant shrubs to trap snow before it blows next to your home. 
  • Leave at least 1 foot of space between your home’s wall and a smaller plant’s final growth to create dead-air pockets that help insulate.

Examine Home Envelope and Insulation

Check your home for air leaks and drafts, particularly where two building materials meet, like where siding and chimneys meet or around outdoor faucets. Feel for cool air around doors and windows, attic hatches, switchplates and outlets. Use caulking or weatherstripping to seal gaps, which could potentially knock off 10% to 25% from your heating bill. You can also add storm windows or thick curtains to help insulate your home.

Consider consulting with a local insulation professional to learn how much new or additional insulation could save you in home heating bills, particularly in your basement, attic, and exterior walls.

Perform an Energy Audit

You can compare your energy use to others in your area using the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick. If you find you’re routinely spending more than others, consider a professional home-energy audit. A credentialed pro can visit your house and review your utility bills to find inefficiencies, point out potential upgrades, and make other recommendations.

Be Prepared for Winter

Preparing for winter utility bills by adjusting your habits with heating, lighting, and other home functions can help you stay within a budget as you stay comfortable. By taking advantage of these opportunities, perhaps you’ll end up with a little extra cash for holiday spending.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

How do I estimate my utility bills?

Your utility company may be able to help you estimate your bills, using historical information for the address. However, you’ll need to remember that you may use more or less than the former occupants. You can ask your utility company about a budget billing program based on previous use.

What happens if you don’t pay utility bills?

Non-payment of utility bills could lead to several consequences, such as fees, your past-due amount being turned over to a collection company, or service shutoff. It could ultimately impact your credit history. If you can’t pay, contact your utility company for assistance or to negotiate payment arrangements.

How can I get help with my utility bills?

Several programs can help you with utility bills, primarily heating bills. If you need help immediately, government and utility programs can provide low-income, senior, and disabled homeowners with cash grants to pay heating bills or discounts on natural gas and electric bills. Different programs have differing qualifications for assistance.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Energy. "Home Heating Systems." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Electricity Explained." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control. "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  4. U.S. Department of Energy. "Thermostats." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  5. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Saving Energy Through Advance Power Strips." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  6. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. "Do-It-Yourself Savings Project: Lower Water Heating Temperature." Nov. 10, 2021.

  7. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. "Do-It-Yourself Savings Project: Insulate Water Heater Tank." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  8. Energystar.gov. "Breaking Down the Typical Utility Bill." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  9. Colorado State University. "Do-It-Yourself Energy Checklist for Homeowners." Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.

  10. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. "Landscaping for Energy-Efficient Homes." Nov. 10, 2021.