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The Tight Budget Guide to Managing Heating Costs in Extreme Cold

Tight Budget

Living in a geographic area where temperature extremes are the norm is not for the “faint of wallet.” If you have ever dreaded the onset of summer or winter primarily because you dread the utility bills, you know exactly what we mean!

While it may not be possible to even out your utility bills entirely (unless you find sub-zero indoor temperatures refreshing), these tips can help you control the costs somewhat when temperatures plunge, without having to spend a lot of money on expensive home renovations.

Change Your HVAC Filter ASAP

Your filter conducts airflow less efficiently when it gets dirty and clogged. For the most efficient air flow—the kind that won't make your heater work harder than it should to pump warm air throughout your house—change the HVAC filter more regularly than usual during extreme cold.

Close Your Fireplace Damper Between Uses

Leaving your fireplace damper open when you are not using the fireplace allows warm air to leak outside—and cold air to leak inside. To prevent this from occurring, just keep the damper closed between uses.

Open Curtains/Blinds on Sunny Days

There is a reason turtles love to bask on rocks when the sun is shining. It is warm and cozy in direct sunlight! If you want to "pre-warm" your house against the extreme evening temperatures, open your curtains and blinds as much as possible during the day in parts of the house where sunshine streams in.

Cut Your Furnace Some Slack During Extreme Cold Temps

The more consistent you can keep your indoor temperatures (i.e., no shutting off the heat and then having to crank it again), the less difficult your furnace's job will be in winter. If you allow your in-home temperature to fluctuate in the winter time, especially during extreme cold, your furnace may struggle to bring your house back up to normal room temperatures, especially if your home is older and not insulated or sealed as well as newer homes might be.

If you are able to do other things to help stay warm, it will take some of the excess pressure off of your HVAC system (and your utility bills!).

Here are some ideas to stay warm while your furnace works its magic:

  • Use electric blankets or a heating pad.

  • Light a fire in the fireplace.

  • Drink a hot beverage.

  • Eat hearty foods to help your body maintain an internal warm temperature.

  • Use a hot water bottle at night.

  • Close the doors to any rooms you are not using.

  • Try to limit your use of "occasional" rooms until temperatures rise again.

  • You can even close the vents in unused rooms to direct all heat to used rooms.

  • Close doors quickly when you have to go in and out.

  • Close all the blinds and curtains at night to seal warm air in.

  • Cover your head, hands, and feet (extremities are where most body heat gets lost).

  • Use space heaters for rooms you are in for long periods of time.

Seal Up Any Obvious Air Leaks

One of the big places where warm air leaks out is underneath doors. You can just place a rolled up blanket or towel along the doorjamb to keep warm air in. Using packing tape or bubble wrap to seal windows (along edges or fully, respectively) can also help keep warm air inside.

Get Your HVAC System Looked At

The best time for HVAC maintenance is just before you anticipate extreme temperatures. But sometimes the weather doesn't change on our schedule and it can take us by surprise. So as soon as you can, get your HVAC specialist out to do a maintenance and service call.

The goal here is to identify any small issues before they become safety hazards, ensure everything is working with optimal efficiency, inspect for surrounding air leaks or debris, ensure there are no carbon monoxide or other leaks, and to give your HVAC system a clean bill of health for the winter work ahead before minor issues turn into expensive repairs.

Wrap & Protect Pipes

Pipes can crack and break in freezing conditions. Wrapping them can also help reduce your water heating costs.

If you can wrap your pipes before a big snowfall or ice storm, this is best for your own safety and for your pipes' functionality. Also keep a very thin stream of water dripping from a central pipe like your kitchen sink to keep pipes active if you lose power over an extended period of time.

Add Some Humidity to Your Indoor Air

Humidity is an interesting phenomenon. When it is cold, adding humidity can make it feel colder. But when it is warm (like inside your house), adding a bit of humidity can make it feel warmer. It can also help with the skin cracking and dryness that extreme cold can sometimes produce.

Here are some tips for how to add more humidity to your warm indoor air:

  • Take a hot shower and open the bathroom door afterwards to let the humidity into the rest of the house.

  • Put a pot of water on the stove to simmer and let off warm humid air.

  • Run a humidifier if you have one.

NOTE: If you see your windows fogging up, dial back down on the humidity, since this condensation can freeze and create conditions where your glass may crack!

If at all possible, the best time to start planning for dealing with extreme cold temperatures is before they hit. These tips can help a great deal in finding creative ways to keep your family warm without draining your wallet. And of course, if you need an HVAC check-up, Shipton's is always here!

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