Unless you live in a scorching climate, heating your home is a necessary and unavoidable expense every winter. Rather than just accepting this as an annual hit to your wallet, try out some of these helpful tips to raise the heat and lower your bills.
1. FILL THOSE GAPS
You’ve spent money heating your house, so the last thing you want to do is to let that heat seep out. Warmed air leaking out around poorly sealed window frames, power sockets, recessed light fittings, and other gaps is a big source of heat loss in homes. Also, when the wind blows, you can feel drafts from those gaps. Use caulk, foam strips or expanding foam to seal up unwanted holes in your home. Ventilation is important, but you can control it.
2. INSULATE, INSULATE, INSULATE
If your house is modern and well constructed, its walls, floors, ceilings, and roof will already contain some insulation material. Commonly, builders use affordable fiberglass or expanded polystyrene (EPS) to insulate homes. But many other types are available—from sheep’s wool to thin-but-effective NASA-style metallic “multifoil.” Add extra insulation to your home cheaply by layering up mineral wool in your attic. Thick curtains help to insulate glass at windows. If your windows are single-glazed, consider sticking transparent polythene film to your internal window frames to act as super-low-budget “double-glazing.”
3. GET, SET, AND FORGET YOUR THERMOSTATS
Although some people seem to struggle with the concept, thermostats are self-regulating devices that keep spaces at a constant temperature. If you have room thermostats, decide what temperature you want for each room, set them, and then leave them alone. They have one job, so let them do it. Fiddling with them won't do much besides cost you money.
Although they’re not cheap, you can now buy ultra-efficient learning thermostats—such as the Nest Thermostat—that automatically track your patterns of temperature preference and auto-adjust accordingly.
4. TURN DOWN YOUR WATER HEATER
Water has a very high specific heat capacity. It doesn’t like to warm up, so you have to input a lot of energy to force it to. On the upside, it also takes a long time to cool down, so it’s an efficient energy storage medium. To reduce the amount of energy used in heating up all that stubborn water, turn down your water heater a little. Many water heaters are factory-set to a 140°F (60°C) default, and reducing the temperature by as little as 10°F (5.5°C) will save you money—up to five percent of your water-heating costs.
5. LOWER YOUR ‘E’
Thermal energy is infrared radiation. With an infrared camera, cold spots in a house, like windows, appear dark or even black. The term emissivity is used to describe the amount of infrared radiation that objects radiate. Nowadays, you can fit low emissivity (low-e) glazing in your home. A special coating on the glass makes it a better reflector of thermal energy, reflecting much more heat back into the room than standard glass by allowing less to radiate away outside. As a cheap alternative to replacement, stick low-e window film to your standard glass to improve its thermal performance.
6. CATCH THE SUN BEFORE IT’S GONE
Even if you don’t have solar panels, you can still take advantage of the sun’s energy to heat your home in the winter. Open your south-facing curtains at sunrise to make best use of “passive solar gain.” This works particularly well if your home has stone or concrete floors, as they have a large thermal mass, meaning they soak up a lot of heat and release it slowly. Remember to close your curtains as soon as the sun dips to trap all that free heat.
7. FORCE WARM AIR DOWNWARDS
Denser, cooler air stays closer to the ground, and warmer air rises. All that warm air is not much use to you up at the ceiling, so force it downwards with a low-speed fan. Intuitively, you might set the fan to blow the warm air directly downwards, but you may feel this as a draft against your skin. Instead, try reversing the fan's setting so it sends the warm air upwards, as this will distribute it back down the walls to mix with the rest of the air in the room, gradually raising the ambient temperature.
8. USE WASTE HEAT
Some equipment in your home generates a lot of “waste heat” during normal operation. Think about your computer. During processing, its CPU belts out waste heat that’s conducted to a heat sink and then dispersed with the aid of cooling fins and a fan. Computers—especially powerful gaming ones—are like convection heaters. Position your workstation where you can best use that thermal energy to help warm your room, for a free (though not insanely effective) Grand Theft Auto-assisted heating system.
9. WORK YOUR BODY
Working out raises your body temperature by burning calories of heat faster. Your body converts food energy into the “energy currency” adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which, among other things, allows you to maintain a normal body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). These energy-producing chemical reactions in your body generate heat, and they do more reacting when you exercise, temporarily raising your body temperature above normal.
Finally, you can always take grandma’s intuitive thermodynamics advice for lowering the thermal conductivity of your own sartorial insulating layer—otherwise known as putting another sweater on.