The Smartest Way to Slash Your Wintertime Energy Costs

Yes, without turning your home into a freezer.

Rather than trying to shut out the cold, focus on sealing heat in. Step one is performing your own energy audit by identifying all gaps, cracks, and holes that let warmth escape. Step two is sealing them shut. In so doing, you'll reduce your monthly heating bill by up to 30 percent, according to researchers at the Department of Energy.

Start with your attic, making sure that its hatch is sealed tight. A quarter-inch gap lets out as much warm air as a bedroom's heating duct blows in, and is easily sealed with weather stripping and a latch bolt. Next, check for drafts near electrical outlets, switch plates, baseboards, fireplace dampers, windows, and doors. Windows are especially problematic, and upgrading to the Energy Star–rated variety can save you up to $465 a year.

Finally, scan your basement for cracks where the foundation meets the house (and seal them with insulation spray), and upgrade your furnace and water heater. New condensing furnaces are 35 percent more efficient than older designs, and high-efficiency demand water heaters can shave $90 off annual utility costs. Lowering the temp on your existing unit to 120°F will offer similar benefits.

Ryan is a research associate professor at the University of Illinois Energy Resources Center.

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