For those in cold climates, winter months come with snow days, sledding, warm drinks and fun celebrations.
However, they also come with higher electric bills from extended hours of darkness and cold temperatures.
Miranda Boutelle, vice president of operations and customer engagement at Efficiency Services Group, explains why higher power bills can be expected during extreme weather.
“A good general rule: The biggest energy consumers are the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and water heating systems,” Miranda says.
Even a few-degrees drop can make a significant difference in energy output. Homeowners may mistakenly think their bills will not change if the thermostat is not touched. However, when the temperature drops outside, the system must work harder to maintain the temperature setting.
“Even if you don’t do anything, your heating system has to work harder if it gets colder in the wintertime,” Miranda says.
One way to combat a higher bill is by setting the thermostat lower at night or when you are away from the house.
“Setting your thermostat low when you’re asleep and under the covers is effective,” she says. “Then, either program it if you have a smart thermostat or manually adjust it back when you’re awake.”
Staying warm and comfortable is the goal, so wearing warmer clothes inside, turning the thermostat up and then back down intermittently, and staying in more enclosed areas of the home can help.
“Do things in the winter that make you more comfortable with keeping a lower setting,” Miranda says.
Winter months mean shorter days and longer hours of darkness, so pay attention to your light sources.
“Lighting is important,” Miranda says. “In the winter months, it’s darker earlier—and with holidays, people are running lights more. Replacing incandescent and CFLs with LED lighting—especially in the fixtures you use the most—is highly recommended.”
Colder months also bring the holiday season, with guests, lights, food and gatherings. All of that comes with higher energy use and, therefore, a higher energy bill.
“When you’re having people over or there’s a lot of people cooking in the kitchen, you can expect an increased energy bill,” Miranda says. “It’s good to plan for going into the new year. Budgeting for it can help.”
Knowing where your energy expenditures come from may help you decide where you can cut costs, helping to make the winter months and holidays merry and bright.
Several apps are available to help track your energy use. Many utilities use SmartHub, and others have their own apps. Others that help estimate energy bills are Green Outlet, Energy Cost Calculator and MeterPlug.
There are other ways to cut down on energy costs.
“Insulation is one of the most cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements in the home,” Miranda says. “Make sure your attic floors and walls are properly sealed. Adding insulation is one of the biggest bangs for your buck in terms of cost-benefit.”
A poorly insulated house leaks heat rapidly and forces the HVAC system to work harder to keep you warm. Make sure vents, windows and other areas that could allow warm air to leak out and cold air to seep in are properly sealed.
Another cost-effective measure is to turn off unused appliances.
“The most energy-efficient setting on any appliance is off,” Miranda says.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans can save $100 to $200 a year by unplugging devices that are not in use.
When shopping, look for energy-efficiency branding.
“Sometimes I see little space heaters that promise energy savings that defy the laws of physics,” Miranda says. “Most of the time, those types of claims are false. Energy Star certification for major appliances is a good standard and can be trusted.”
Energy Star products undergo ongoing verification testing by a third party to meet standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are considered the industry gold standard for energy-efficient products.