Home Is Where the Heat Is: 8 Ways to Keep It That Way


There’s nothing like a good ol’-fashioned November flurry to remind us that winter is on its way. And since for many of us, that’ll mean spending a whole lot more time at home, we thought we’d put together some handy tips and tricks for keeping your digs toasty all season long.

1. Fill in small cracks: To find a draft, slowly move an incense stick along floors, windows, doors, vents, and walls—the smoke will flutter around leaks. Clean and dry the crack, then squeeze caulk along it. Try low-VOC AFM Safecoat Multi-Purpose Caulking Compound (under $10). Why bother? Sealing gaps and leaks can boost a home’s heat efficiency by 5-30 percent a year.

2. Insulate outlets and switches: Since electrical boxes penetrate into the wall cavity, outlets and switches potentially cause air leakage. Use 10-cent outlet and switch gaskets to make sure they don’t. Just remove the cover plate with a screwdriver, insert the pre-cut foam seal, then put the plate back on. It’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce energy loss.

3. Make the most of existing windows: Get better windows without actually buying ‘em—just cut air infiltration with EnergySavr Window Inserts ($39-$89), clear, lightweight insulators that pop into the frame. Or try shrink-fit window insulators ($4.50-$11.50 at Green Depot), which seal on to the existing window with a hairdryer. That simple step can cut heating bills in half.

4. Mind the furnace filter: Keep the filter free of debris like dust, bacteria, mold, and pollen, all which clog and slow down the furnace. If you’ve got a throwaway fiberglass panel filter, remember to replace it monthly. But, since these only trap 10-40 percent of pollutants, consider switching to a permanent filter, which can trap 90 percent. Keeping the furnace clean reduces energy use, keeps you from having to replace it earlier than necessary,  and saves up to 5 percent of household heating costs.

5. Decrease water heater temperature: Make sure the thermostat dial, often located near the bottom on the gas valve, is set appropriately. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends 120 degrees for optimum performance/efficiency. Lowering the temperature by 10 degrees saves about 13 percent on water heating costs.

6. Protect the water heater: Drape the tank with a wrap or blanket. This helps keep water hot longer, so the heater doesn’t need to work as hard. A good one can cost about $40 at Green Home Experts, but owner Maria Onesto Moran explains that you can make that money back in utility savings within just five months.

7. Heat rooms you use, when you use them: If you’ve got a programmable thermostat, remember to use it. If you don’t, it’s well worth forking over a few bucks. A Honeywell Basic Programmable Thermostat is listed under $30 and they’re easy to install in half an hour with just a hammer, screwdriver, and drill. Switching to a programmable thermostat can save up to 20 percent on heating costs, says People’s Gas.

8. Run fans in reverse: Find the switch on the fan’s wire housing and change direction to clockwise. This pulls cool air up and circulates warmer air that’s pooled near the ceiling back around the room. Run the fan at its lowest speed. Reversing the direction cuts your heating costs as much as 10 percent.