A lot of our incomes go into keeping the temperature in our homes comfortable. Families on or below the poverty line are estimated to be spending 16.5% of their annual income just on home heating/cooling costs — that’s a significant amount of funds that could otherwise be spent boosting local economies or saved for emergency funding, college educations or retirement accounts.

As soon as Thanksgiving rolls around, our community starts thinking about the harsh Iowa winter that we are going to face, and beg our pocketbooks to brace themselves. I used to keep my thermostat at a comfortable 73 degrees year round, and then find myself scraping for cash to buy holiday gifts for friends and family. I thought that was just the cost of keeping a home and paying your bills. You were supposed to keep your home at you optimum temperature, right? It’s easy to forget that our homes are not separate from nature, but part of the environment it is providing. I finally learned that, and I started to let the ambient temperature surrounding my home in (just a little) and change my behaviors inside my home to accomodate that. It saved me money, reduced the greenhouse gas emissions my household was responsible for, and I learned to love my slippers. Here is what I did:

I turned down the thermostat
The first thing you will need to do is determine was temperature you are willing to decrease your thermostat to. For me, it was a brisk 62 degrees. I knew that I could change my habits slightly to accomodate for a cooler home, but the drop was signficant enough that I knew I would be able to see energy savings on my monthly bills. Some people may not want to go that low, and some might say that’s not low-enough — to each their own. I say, do whatever you think is significant enough, but still wouldn’t be terribly uncomfortable getting dressed in the morning. You can change other small aspects of your daily life to compensate for a cooler environment. Plus, I think my wooly Australian Shepard-mix, Luke, thanked me, as well.

I changed what I wore
In the winter, what I wore inside the home and what I wore outside varied wildly. I was comfortable in a t-shirt inside, but would have frozen solid doing that while walking the dog. That would have been crazy, so why is it okay to artificially heat my home to make it so? After turning my heat down, I started wearing sweaters and wool socks, and using blankets when needed. Flannel pajamas became my new favorite thing, and I learned to love my slippers again.

I saw an immediate improvement in my comfort level, and worrying less what my MidAm bill was going to look like this billing cycle. I’ve since extended this thought-process to all seasons in my home – that being the indoor temperature of my home should reflect the temperature outside, but without causing discomfort. The energy savings are great, but it’s also nice to know what season you are in when you can feel it.

I changed the direction of my ceiling fans
Here’s one that not everyone thinks of. Heat rises, and so when heating your home, the heat will immediately rise to your ceiling. Unfortunately, and until we can find an affordable and scientifically-sound method for home anti-gravity systems, our feet remain firmly planted on the floor of our homes.

The ceiling fans in the livingroom and master bedroom are one of my favorite features in my new home — especially in the summer. However, they are also helpful in the winter. On all models, there is a switch near the base of the fan that can be flipped, and the direction of the blades changes. Now, the ceiling fan will dispurse the warm air from above it around your space, making it warmer. This can significantly decrease the temperature on your thermostat that is necessary to maintain a comfortable living space, and also provide better air circulation in your home. Here is a graphic from House Decor Selection that explains it well:

I opened the shades
Sunlight = heat. Duh, I learned that in Kindergarden. Good job, Ann. Gold Star.

Then why didn’t I realize that if I let more sunlight into my house it would make the inside of my house warmer? Moving passed whether I can ever forgive myself for this lack of critical thinking, introducing more natural light into my home has made a world of difference, generally, but, particularly in the winter months. Now I get to enjoy the activity of my nieghborhood and further reduce my energy costs by using a natural heating element I don’t have to pay for — plus I’m using less electricity from lights, too!

I sealed some leaks
I’m far from done with this project, but I’m proud to say I’ve made some headway by chaulking all my leaky windows. Heat is going to escape out of those, and let cool air in, making my furance work harder than it needs to. I determined what windows needed sealing by just putting my hand up to the edges of the window on a particularly cold and windy night in late October. However, there are other free services, like Home Energy Audits from Green Iowa Americorps, that will provide a blowerdoor test to determine where to seal in your home for effective insulation. Other than windows, checking the insulation in your attic and basement, drafts from your external doors, and heat loses from unexpected places like electrical outlets, A/C units, and light fixtures can turn up a whole host of places where chaulking or sealing could be ideal.

I stopped heating unused rooms
This was a big one. I only live with my partner and my dog, but we have two extra bedrooms that were being heated the same as if they were being occupied. We didn’t need to be doing that. We, nor many of us, aren’t expecting company any time soon. So, I closed the central heat vents in those two rooms and closed the doors to them, so I won’t be heating those room. They don’t get unbearably cold that way due to residual heat from adjacent rooms, but they aren’t being heated to the temperature that I want my occupied spaces at. Now my furnace only has to work a fraction as hard, because it is only heating the rooms that we occupy frequently.

Some other fun things
I’ve picked up some other fun tips to use in my seasonal energy-savings journey that others might enjoy. Some are just temporary fixes and thrifty tricks, but they undoubtably are helping keep my home warmer without turning up the thermostat:

  • Leave the oven door open after cooking – This one is small but was also an “A-ha” moment for me. Why would I be letting that heat dissipate with the oven door closed when I’m also trying to heat my home. Now I leave the oven door open after cooking in it to release that heat into my home. It’s like a 2-for-1 with energy I was already using anyway.
  • Turn the thermostat down when you go to bed – I can’t be the only one that sleeps under a mountain of blankets. I really don’t even need my thermostat set to a “get cozy” temperature when I sleep because “get cozy” is my default, even in the old days when it was set the 73 degrees year round. Now I turn the thermostat down to ~60 degrees at night, then open up the shades and bump it up a few degrees in the morning while making my morning cup of coffee. You could make it easier on yourself and purchase a smart thermostat that can be programmed to do this automatically — that way you don’t forget. I think I would miss the ritual though.
  • Invest in a space heater – This is one that I have not done yet, because I seem pretty comfortable with the routine I’ve created for myself. But, for those that need a little extra heat in certain areas of their home, a space heater is a really energy efficient and economical way to solve the problem without bumping up the thermostat or wearing you winter coat in your home office.

I think a lot of the charm of the holiday season is gifting, receiving and using those cozy winter clothes that accompany the time. But, what is the point of those when they aren’t of use to you in your home? This goes doubly for this year, where many of us will be spending the holidays at home, and not enjoying it with family. Think we all need to give ourselves a reason to feel cozy.

This year has been rough on everyone, and money can be tight in a lot of corners of our community — but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice being comfortable in our own homes because of that. Hopefully the information presented was of some use to you or someone you know, as much as it was for me. Hopefully your mom or brother or best friend’s sister-in-law’s neighbor gets you something cozy for the holidays, and you can learn to love your slippers again.