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Ask Chuck: How can I save money on energy bills?

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

It is already cccccold where I live. My heating bills are getting painful. Any tips to save money this winter?

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Bracing for the Winter Bills

Dear Bracing for the Winter Bills,

Getty Images/David Espejo
Getty Images/David Espejo

Unfortunately, we all need to be prepared to pay more to heat our homes in the coming months, regardless of the weather. Why? A hot summer, the Russia-Ukraine War, inflation, and the forecast of a cold winter will all impact our bills.

This week, Business Insider reported that the Energy Information Agency warned that those who use natural gas for heating will spend an average of $931 this winter. This is up 28% ($206) over last year. Prices are up, and colder temperatures are expected. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association says home heating costs are reaching the highest level in more than10 years. The cost of heating a home is becoming unaffordable for millions of lower-income families.

I looked at what Europe is doing in its energy crisis and realized we could do that here.

Tips to reduce costs in winter

  • Install a high-tech thermostat.
  • Set the thermostat at 66 to 68 degrees, gradually lowering temperatures over several days so your body can adjust.
  • Closing vents can actually increase your bills and damage your furnace. Make sure you know what you’re doing.
  • Turn back the thermostat at night or when nobody is home.
  • Replace HVAC filters regularly, and service the system annually.
  • Cover windows at night; open and let in the sun during the day.
  • Check for air leaks; weather strip, caulk, or use sticky foam tape to seal gaps.
  • Insulate attics, and install door sweeps or use draft stoppers on exterior doors.
  • Keep fireplace vents open only when burning a fire.
  • Bake or cook at home to add some heat.
  • Take short showers instead of baths.
  • Dress in layers.

The best savings

Try adjusting your thermostat to 68F for most of the day this winter. The US Department of Energy says that for maximum efficiency, choose eight hours per day to reduce that temperature by 7 to 10 degrees. This can reduce yearly energy costs by up to 10%. Setting the thermostat to a lower temperature will help it retain heat longer and reduce the amount of energy needed to keep it warm. A benefit is that sleeping in cooler temperatures grants more restful sleep.

Tips to reduce energy usage year round

  • Reduce air conditioning; set the thermostat to 80 degrees.
  • Set the hot water heater at 120 degrees, and install a hot-water insulating blanket.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Use a clothesline instead of a dryer. Clean the lint screen with every load. Do laundry and use the dishwasher at non-peak hours. Wait to run the dishwasher until you have a full load. Try the quick cycle.
  • Use smart strips or power bars for your electronics, and switch them off when not in use.
  • Use solar outdoor lighting.
  • Seal and insulate foundation walls in unventilated crawl spaces.
  • When replacing appliances, look for Energy-Star-rated ones.
  • Don’t leave the refrigerator door open. Get what you want, and close it immediately.

Unpack groceries first; then load all refrigerated and frozen items at once.

  • Clean refrigerator coils.
  • Only run ceiling fans when you are in the room. They only circulate air.
  • Turn off the lights.
  • Take shorter, cooler showers.
  • More tips here

A cell phone charger, TV, or desk lamp that is plugged in, even though turned off, still uses electricity and costs you money. “Phantom load” is the term used to describe electricity consumed by electronics that are plugged in though not being used. It can add up over time. Walk through each room of your house, and see what is plugged in. Smart strips detect when appliances are not in use and stop sending electricity to them. It’s easy to turn off a strip of multiple things instead of unplugging them individually. 

Trouble paying bills?

Contact your utility provider and work out a payment plan. Ask if you qualify for additional assistance. Be patient and polite when discussing your situation. LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) may provide assistance. The National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) hotline is 866-674-6327.

Prioritize your most urgent payments, such as food, housing, and utilities. Cut back on non-essential spending. Eliminate all impulse purchases by changing your behavior. Take a break from social media, shopping with friends, and browsing on your computer or phone. Adjust your budget now to be sure you can cover the increased costs this winter.

Thank you for the question. I hope you can stay warm and stress-free about your energy bills this winter.

If credit card debt is adding to your financial stress, Christian Credit Counselors is a trusted source of help to ease the financial pain.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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