Written by Erin Vaughan
The holidays are over and it’s time to get cracking on those resolutions. If yours is to save money this year, cutting utility spending through smarter energy use is a good way to go. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that air sealing and insulation alone can save you around 15 percent on your energy bills—potentially reducing your electricity bills by $350 a year.
But what’s the point if you have to spend an arm and a leg to get those energy savings? Luckily, there are actually quite a few affordable energy improvements out there—jobs you can accomplish for less than $100 to $50. Below are six of the cheapest and most profitable energy-saving projects to kick your new year off right.
1. Give your HVAC some attention
Clogged furnace filter? Dirty air vents? Homeowners pay the price on their energy bills for poorly maintained heating units. Just switching out your furnace filters can reduce your energy bills by 5 to 15 percent. At around $20 for a package of two, a filter is definitely an affordable upgrade. To get your air vents performing at tip-top shape, remove the air registers and vacuum around the edges of the vent—that way, your unit won’t have to work as hard to deliver heated air.
2. Seal gaps in windows
For the price of a tube of caulk, you can shore off drafts from gaps around leaky windows. Re-caulking windows is an easy enough project for even a novice handyman—just scrape out the old caulk and replace it with a new bead of silicone caulk. Add a little foam tape around the moving parts, and you’ll be able to sit out even the most ferocious storms.
3. Maintain your fireplace
If you’re using your fireplace to offset some of your heating expenses, you’re going to want to give it a little TLC to help it perform at its absolute best. First, pay attention to your chimney damper. You should only open it when you have a fire going—otherwise heat can escape through your chimney, driving up your utility costs. When you do use your fireplace, open your windows about an inch, and close all the doors to the room. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually helps reduce heat loss. Another update is to check your fireplace for cracks. These can be sealed using silicate-based refractory cement caulking.
4. Insulate your windows
If your windows are older, leaks and gaps may not be your only problem. Poorly insulated windows also let off heat through the glass itself. Interior storm windows—acrylic inserts that can be installed over the existing window from the indoors—allow you to net some of the savings of double-pane windows without a full window replacement. Another idea, albeit slightly less aesthetically pleasing, is to use plastic window film. The film shrinks to fit tightly around your window frames—which will block cold air from entering your home.
5. Buy a humidifier
Dry, wintry air tends to make it feel colder in your home than it actually is. If your skin feels dry and your lips chapped, chances are you could benefit from buying a humidifier. Our body temperature drops when water droplets evaporate on our skin, and when the humidity is lower, it speeds up that process, meaning we get much colder. An ideal humidity level is around 45 percent, but in the winter, the relative humidity outside can easily fall to 20 percent. A warm-mist humidifier helps keep your body temperature up—meaning you can turn the thermostat down and save.
6. Bump up your attic insulation
Most modern homes have fairly good insulation in the wall cavities, but one place that can usually use a little help—even in new houses—is the insulation on the attic floor. Generally, experts say that if you can see the floor joists, your insulation could use a little help. Laying insulation in an attic is easy enough for most homeowners to DIY—just make sure to cut around soffit vents and recessed lighting.
You may have to spend a little bit of money to get these energy savings, but the return on your investment should be relatively quick—so you can spend your time lining your pockets.
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, Texas, where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.