Savin’ Some Simoleons

I have mixed emotions about January this year. Normally it feels like a big period at the end of the sentence of the last chapter of Holidays Gone Haywire, a novel you pick up in November and can’t put down until the day after New Year. When it’s over you can’t quite remember the plot, but you have the general sense that the story covered a wide range of emotions and someone named Vodka manages to save the day. After I put it on the shelf (somehow knowing that I’ll be pulling it down again in ten months) I suddenly notice January sulking on the sofa. Cold, boring, and planning on hanging around a long, long time. 
But, as I write this a few days before the New Year, it’s 63 degrees and my weather app has informed me that this will be the coldest day of the next week. My neighbor’s daffodils have started to sprout, and I had to dig a watering can out of the shed this morning to give my wilting perennials a drink. I’ve been fooled by capricious months before, admittedly played more than once by a sweet-talking March, but January? Call me callous, but I trust it not. Quoting J.R. Tolkien, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near one.”
So, assuming that sometime shortly cold weather will be upon us, I wanted to share a few easy tips to reduce your energy bills this winter. It’s not as exciting as a dragon in your neighborhood, but hey, it’s January. What else are you going to do?
Let’s start with water heaters. Their main purpose is to heat and hold hot water, but they are surprisingly not designed to insulate well. The average household spends $400-$600 a year just to heat water, and most of that is due to heat loss when the tank isn’t used. A simple solution is to pick up a water heater insulation blanket and wrap it around your tank. Measure the height and diameter of the heater to get the right size. Added insulation reduces heat loss by 30-45% on electric tanks, and the savings pay for your blanket in just a few months. (With gas heaters most of the heat loss goes up the flue, so your savings will be less.) For more efficiency, if your tank is located in an open area like a basement or garage, insulate the pipes running from the heater with foam pipe insulation. It’s a hollow foam tube with a split up the side for easy installation and they come in various sizes depending on your pipe’s diameter. Not only will you save money, but your hot water supply will last longer, something the late risers in your family will appreciate. 
Usually, our biggest winter energy expense is heating the house, and the best way to control that cost is your thermostat. A good rule of thumb is that every degree you lower your thermostat reduces your energy bill by 1-3%. Look into programmable or smart thermostats that automatically set your temperature lower at the time you go to bed, and raise it again thirty minutes before you wake up. Money saved, and you’ll get a better night’s sleep. A basic programmable thermostat is about $23, and a top-end learning thermostat will be around $200. They are easy to install, when you pop the cover of your old thermostat you’ll see between two to five wires going to marked connectors. Usually, the red wire (R) will go to the R connector, the white wire (W) will go to the W connector, etc. Your new thermostat will come with directions, the most important one is to turn off your electricity before you start the job. 
If your house is on a foundation, now is the time to close your outside vents. Crawl spaces were designed to breathe in the warmer weather and be closed when the temperature drops to keep any exposed pipes from freezing. When the vents are left open in the winter, your furnace has to work harder to keep the house warm. Most vents were designed to slide open and closed, but if it’s stuck in the open position, cut a piece of sheet insulation the size of the opening and wedge it in place. It’s an inexpensive way to save your money and your pipes.
Check for drafts under your doors and install weather stripping. For quick installation without tools, I like the Holikme adhesive draft stopper. Simply cut to the correct length, pull off the adhesive backing, and install. Don’t forget your attic door, since heat rises you may not notice the warm draft blowing into your attic. Bonus, it keeps critters out of the downstairs. I have a heartwarming tale of when Laura met the bat family, but that’s for another time. 

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