How to Save on Energy this Winter

Tips on how to save on energy this winter, including helpful advice for heating the home, maintaining appliances, water temperature, and more.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
November/December 1975
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Since moist air holds heat better than dry, your home will stay warmer at less cost, if you keep its relative humidity at 35 to 40%.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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This article provides a long list of helpful tips on how to save on energy this winter, including advice on appliances, maintenance of heaters, temperature control in the home, and more. 

How to Save on Energy this Winter

Substantial amounts of household heat are lost through single-pane windows like these. Storm windows, or plastic sheeting taped over the frames, can cut the leakage in half . . . and closed drapes — or, better yet, insulated shutters — reduce heat loss even more.

This bundled-up sleeper has the right idea: You can cut heating costs as much as 15% just by turning the thermostat down to 60 degrees Fahrenheit at bedtime. Use quilts, warm night wear, and — if you like — furry bedfellows to take the bite out of chilly winter nights.

Chilly drafts like to sneak into a house through cracks at the edges of door and window frames. Caulking and weather stripping are inexpensive do-it-yourself projects which can slice 10% or more off the average household's energy bill.

Since moist air holds heat better than dry, your home will stay warmer at less cost, if you keep its relative humidity at 35 to 40%. Although a humidifier like this one is ideal, pans of water on radiators — or a good collection of houseplants — will also help.

For satisfactory temperature control, a thermostat is best located in a draft-free spot — always on an interior wall — and at least three feet from lamps, TV sets, and other heat–generating appliances.

Radios, TV sets, and electric lights aren't big consumers of current . . . but they all add up. It's a good ecological practice (and just plain good sense) to turn off any appliance you're not actually using.

An "instant on " TV set — especially of the tube type — uses power even when the screen is dark. It's best to plug such a unit into a socket controlled by a wall switch, or to provide it with an extra on–off control.

Light-colored walls, rugs, drapes, and furnishings are efficient reflectors which reduce the amount of artificial illumination needed to keep a room bright and cheerful.

In areas where bright illumination is needed, one large incandescent bulb performs more efficiently than several smaller ones . . . and all lights function best when well dusted.

Your furnace must be correctly adjusted to operate properly. You can cut its fuel consumption as much as 10% by having the system serviced yearly . . . preferably each fall. Filters used in forced-air heating should be cleaned or replaced monthly, and all radiators and other elements kept dust free.

An efficient alternative to a conventional furnace is the heat pump, which supplies 1-1 /2 to 2-1 /2 times as much heat as the electrical energy needed for its operation . . . and will also provide air conditioning come summer.

Since a natural gas heater needs a good flow of oxygen for top performance, make sure the unit's air intake is working well.

It's very important to check heating ducts for leaks, and to insulate any portions of the system that pass through unheated areas of the house (such as garages and basements). Otherwise, large quantities of warmth will escape on the way to lived-in rooms where the heat is most needed.

More than half the energy used in American homes goes into keeping our houses at livable temperatures . . . and every degree over 70 degrees Fahrenheit can add 5% to a family's fuel consumption (and costs). Substantial savings may be gained by leaving your thermostat at 68 degrees during the day (and wearing a sweater if you feel chilly).

We're sorry that we have to evict that bird from its comfortable nest . . . but chimneys should be cleaned yearly to avoid the danger of fire and to allow proper functioning of the household heating system.

Warm air, of course, rises . . . all too often, into the attic and on out through the roof. A 6inch layer of insulation between the upstairs storeroom and the main part of the house will cut this loss to a minimum.

If you can't resist the charm of an open fire, a wise choice of fuel will help to reduce its disadvantages. Hardwoods burn hot and clean and are preferable to softwoods, which emit chimney–fouling creosote.

A good way to improve the performance of a standard fireplace is to install a bent–pipe log holding device sold under the name of "Thermograte". This ingenious fitting which works by drawing air through its metal tubes-directs heat out into the room (instead of up the chimney).

Partial closing of the damper when the fireplace is in use will help to control the escape of heat up the flue. (You don't need a roaring blaze for coziness.) The damper should be fully shut at all other times.

Food to be roasted, broiled, or baked for more than an hour can be put directly into a cold oven. If it's necessary to preheat the oven, 10 minutes is usually long enough. Once the dish has been launched, it should be left to its own devices (since each peek costs you something like 25 degrees of useful temperature).

The perfect pot for stove–top use is straight sided and flat bottomed, covers the entire burner, and comes with a tight fitting lid. It's best (for both thrift and nutrition) to cook with little water and to turn down the heat as soon as the liquid boils. Clean burner reflector pans also help to save energy.

Electric dishwashers operate most economically at full capacity (you may need to accumulate utensils from several meals, if your family is small). And have you considered letting dishes air–dry after the rinse cycle is over?

Frost — which acts as an insulator and makes it harder for a freezer to rid itself of warm air — shouldn't be allowed to build up thicker than 1/4 inch. Dusty condenser coils are another energy drain to avoid.

This hungry gal would probably be startled to learn the actual cost of her midnight snack. Cold air rapidly spills out of an open refrigerator and large amounts of energy are needed to again lower the temperature of the box. It's important to keep the unit closed as much as possible . . . and to be sure it closes tight. If the door's edge won't grip a piece of paper, its gasket should be replaced.

For obvious reasons, the faithful family refrigerator will have to work overtime (and consume more energy) if it's placed right beside the stove. The appliances pictured in the illustration are in a good relative position.

The production of hot water — the second biggest item on the American householder's energy budget — accounts for 15% of home power consumption. You can cut this figure by locating the water heater as near as possible to the points where most of its output is used (to avoid heat loss in piping).

A good way to reduce the expense of hot water production is to revise your idea of "hot". Clothes, dishes, and human beings can be washed effectively in water heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit . . . and cold liquid is quite adequate for many cleaning jobs. (Don't believe, by the way, that articles are "sterilized" by washing them at higher temperatures. 'Tain't so, unless you process them at least five minutes at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.)

One dripping faucet can waste thousands of gallons of water yearly . . . and if it's hot water, the energy loss is considerable. Well-maintained plumbing is kinder to your budget and to the nation's resources.

The dryer's exhaust on the outside of your house needs a periodic cleaning. A partly blocked vent means longer drying times and the use of more than necessary current.

If you've always hated ironing, here's a cast–iron excuse not to do any: An ordinary hand iron — which converts electricity to heat by the rather inefficient methods of resistance — uses three times as much power as a color TV set would consume in the same period. Natural non–iron fabrics, then, save energy . . . yours and the nation's. Artificial fibers, however, are frequently a different story since — because they don't "breathe" — some people find such clothes make them swelter in hot weather and feel clammy during cold snaps.

Your washer and dryer will perform best when full but not overloaded. A few hints: Wash in warm or cold water if possible, sort clothes by weight for drying, and dry them in consecutive batches to make use of the heat which has already built up in your dryer. Check the lint screen often and remove accumulations of fluff. Or air– and sun–dry your clothes outdoors on a line!


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