Winter is upon us. Whether you own your own home or rent, there are so many free and low cost ways to save energy and lower your electric and gas bill during the cold season. Here are a few of our favorite energy saving tips to keep your house warm and your wallet full:

Go solar!

Well, what did you expect our first tip would be?! Homeowners all over the nation love the new lease options to install solar panels – no money down and flat monthly rate that is lower than your current electric bill. And everyone can get in on the action with practical solar-powered gadgets, such as phone/laptop chargers and lights (which are a good investment, as anyone who experienced power outages from Hurricane Sandy will tell you).

Check your heating system

If it’s been a while since you’ve checked out your heating and ventilation system, this is the perfect time to do so. Air filters should be changed regularly; about every 3 to 6 months is recommended for the average home, more frequently if you have pets or allergies. Make sure that your vents are open and don’t have anything covering them in the rooms you need to heat. Close off vents in spare rooms that don’t get much use. A programmable thermostat is the best way to set and monitor temperature changes. If anything seems a little off with your heating system, contact a professional right away to make sure it’s not going to break down suddenly or leak toxic fumes into the house (like carbon monoxide).

Keep the heat in

Once your heater is working at its peak, you’ll want to make sure that the heat stays in your house. One big heat-escaping culprit – windows. Everyone would love to have new windows, but that’s not always possible. But investing in a good set of insulating blinds will go a long way to improving your windows’ efficiency. Keep your drapes open during the day to let the sunshine in and close them up at night for insulation. Also, caulk any small holes around the window frame. Doors are another spot to check. Weather stripping is inexpensive and easy to do, and can help you save about 10% off your energy bill. And if you have a fireplace, don’t forget to close the damper when it’s not in use to prevent heat from leaking out the chimney.

Unplug

It’s pretty much typical to keep all of your electrical devices plugged in; TVs, stereos, lights, etc.

But did you know that all of those devices still draw a small amount of current even if they’re off? Every little bit adds up, so a good rule of thumb is: if you’re not using it, unplug it.

Adjust your water heater

Heating water can get expensive. According to the Department of Energy, “water heating can account for 14% to 25% of the energy consumed in your home.” Adjusting the temperate to the warm setting (120°F) will help you lower your costs. And if you have an older water heater, cover it with a water heater blanket to insulate it better.

Washing clothes with cold water

An incredible 90% of the energy actually used when washing with warm/hot water goes straight to heating the water. Use the cold water settings when washing clothes and an average household can save at least $200 per year.

Reverse fan blades

Turning the ceiling fan on when it’s cold may seem at cross-purposes with staying warm. But did you know that ceiling fans can be set to either blow air down for cooling or pull air up to circulate the warm air? Try it out with your own fans – there is a little manual switch on the unit or most remotes have a reverse button.

Get a home energy audit

A home energy audit can really help you analyze the best ways to maximize your home’s current energy status and find more ways to improve it. Many utility companies even offer free home energy audits and additional incentives for upgrading appliances to more energy efficient models. Professional audits generally start at around $200 and can go up into the thousands depending on how thorough of an assessment is performed.

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