The majority of people in North America have central air heating with a furnace, which heats the air and circulates it around the home via ducts and vents. Another common heating method in older homes is a boiler, which heats water that then passes through radiators to provide heat.
Alternatively, many homes may rely on electric baseboard heaters. These may be useful for heating one room, but are largely inefficient for heating an entire home, as a lot of electrical energy is required to produce the appropriate amount of heat (and this is costly).
Less common (but more eco-friendly) options for heating an entire home include geothermal heating and active solar heating. Geothermal heating works by making use of the more constant temperatures found underground in order to regulate the home’s temperature; cool air is exchanged for warmer air in cold seasons, and warm air is exchanged for cooler air in hot seasons. Active solar heating uses solar power to heat liquid or air and then circulate it through the home.
Energy Sources: Electricity vs. Natural Gas
Homes are typically heated with either electric or natural gas energy sources. Electric energy is more expensive than natural gas. However, not all homes are equipped with natural gas, depending on the area you live in. This is an important consideration to keep in mind when looking at ways to lower your heating costs. It’s also a good thing to consider when you’re looking to buy a home, or deciding where to rent (if you pay for your own utilities).
Forced-air heating and boilers may be powered by natural gas or electricity. If you have an electric system, but natural gas is available in your area, then making the switch may not be very costly since the ductwork or radiators would already be installed.
You can also try to negotiate rates with your utility company, especially if there are multiple utility options in your area. Alternatively, some companies may offer the option of paying a set amount each month based on your previous usage, and then they’ll credit your account if you use less (but with this, be mindful that you’ll also have to pay for overuse).
Lowering Your Heating Costs
Here are 10 fairly easy-to-follow suggestions that will help you lower your heating costs. Many of these are applicable to everyone, regardless of how your home is heated and what energy source you primarily use.
Turning the heat down by just 2 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce your bill by five percent, so put on some cozy socks and add an extra layer, or snuggle up under a blanket. Put cozy blankets out for guests as well.
Make Sure Your Home’s Properly Insulated
Heat rises, so be sure you’re not losing heat to your attic by adding a radiant barrier. Check your windows and doors for drafts, and add weather-stripping and caulking where appropriate. Even electrical outlets can leak air! A lot of leaks can easily be fixed with caulking or spray foam.
Open Window Coverings When Possible
Window coverings, such as curtains and blinds, can also help regulate the temperature inside your home and keep drafts from getting in. It’s best to keep these open on sunny days, though, to let the warm sunshine heat your home.
Monitor Your Heating System
Ensure that your heating system is properly maintained and that it’s running efficiently. Filters need to be cleaned and replaced, and vents need to be cleaned and cleared. Furnaces and hot water pipes should also be properly insulated to prevent heat loss. Remember to book tune-ups and maintenance as needed.
Upgrade to a Programmable or Smart Thermostat
These can adjust the temperature for you at different parts of the day. For example, lowering the heat by a few degrees at night when you’re snuggled under the covers can reduce your heating costs, and research has shown that cooler environments lead to better quality sleep. Win-win!
Consider Using a Space Heater
If you have a lot of unused space in your home, consider turning the heat down and using a space heater. While electricity is more expensive than natural gas when it’s used to heat an entire home, it’s more cost-effective to turn the heat down (or off!) and rely on a space heater.
Use Your Fireplace or Wood-Burning Stove
If you’ve got a room with a fireplace or a wood-burning stove, try rearranging your household activities so you can be closer to that heat source. The only cost for either of these forms of heating would be the cost of the wood or pellets burned inside. Just make sure the damper is closed, so you don’t lose all that nice warm air to the outdoors.
Block or close heat registers and close doors to rooms that aren’t used, in order to redirect that heat to the rooms that are being used more often.
Be Creative With Heat Sources
Be creative with other sources of heat in your home. When you’re using the oven to cook, leave it open to heat the kitchen. Make sure you don’t use the exhaust fan above the stove, though, as it’ll pull all that warm air outside! You may also want to leave the bathroom door open after a hot shower to let the hot, steamy air out.
Investigate Switching to Gas
Keeping in mind that gas is more cost-effective than electric heating systems, investigate what the upfront cost is to switch from baseboards or another electric heating system to a natural gas forced-air or boiler system. The switch may be simple if you have electric forced-air, or it may be a bit more costly if you don’t have any existing ductwork. However, the upfront cost will pay for itself over a period of time, with the savings you’ll reap from using less-expensive gas as opposed to electricity.
Want to Make a Bigger Change?
While these two methods are cost-intensive up front, geothermal heating and active solar heating are two of the most eco-friendly options for heating your home. The savings on utilities that come with these methods are unrivaled, and while it may take some time for you to make your money back, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’re having a positive impact on the environment.
Additionally, once installed, the maintenance and repair costs for geothermal and active solar systems are typically much lower than those associated with traditional heating systems.