I laughed (again) as I read through the growing outrage on Facebook over some recent electric bills. Every year, around the same January through February time period, the same neighborhood FB page gets loaded with comments from people complaining that their bill had doubled, and even tripled over one month. It was a neighborhood with mostly older homes; with many if the homeowners probably not taking the steps to modernize their doors, windows, and insulation. Whether or not the people posting the comments were exaggerating or not, there was no doubt in my mind that their heating bill had likely jumped up, with us coming off of a couple weeks of low temperatures in our area. But how high a bill goes depends, in part, on what people are willing to do to help keep it down.
A month earlier, a friend poised the question on her FB page, asking what people set their thermostats on during the winter. I was very surprised to see a number of responders saying everything from mid-70 to even as high as 78 degrees! I could just feel the sweat pouring down my back thinking about how hot my house would feel at that setting!
Growing up, I remember my mom telling us to “go put a sweater on,” if we complained about the house being too cold in the winter. My mom typically kept it at a firm 68 degrees. When I got my own home, responsible for paying my own bill, I would do the same. When friends would come over, I would turn into my mother if any of them dared to say something about how my house felt. It’s what I also had to say to at least one roommate. “Don’t dress like it’s summer just because you’re in the house.” This was the same roommate who would always want to turn the heat up, but then would sleep with the ceiling fan on because she “liked the sound!”
But back to that informal FB poll my friend took. Many of her friends tried justifying their thermostat settings based upon comfort. They wanted to feel warm enough in their house that they could wear anything. But to me, if I have to sleep in thin PJs, and under only a sheet in the middle of winter, because the house is too warm to use a blanket, then something is wrong. And I’m pretty sure that many of the same people setting upper 70s on the thermostat are the same ones complaining because their electric bill runs a couple of hundred dollars and more!
According to the Department of Energy, and most electric companies, the best settings to conserve energy and keep your utility bill down is 68 degrees during the day and down to 66 degrees at night. To keep from moving mine back and forth, I just keep it at 66 all day. I figure I’m not home during the day, and will be under covers (or a throw in the chair while watching television), with a nice blanket or two in bed.
“You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.
You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep or away from home.”
— Department of Energy
I believe that oftentimes when people say they’re looking for ways to save money, what they don’t say is that they want to do it without sacrifices or inconveniences. But like almost anything that’s worth doing, there will almost always be some type of sacrifice and perhaps an inconvenience to it.
The truth of the matter is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t save money on your electric bill while allowing your heat to run all day. You don’t save energy when the system’s running at 78 degrees in the winter. And when you calculate other places where you might be losing some of the energy that you’re trying to save — like old single-pane windows, cracks and spaces around and under the door, or poor insulation in attic or walls, it can really add up.
So if you are serious about saving on your heating bill this winter, it’s not too late. And every little bit helps. Most electric companies provide their customers with brochures and online links describing how people can save money. My city’s electric company has a list on theirs with some helpful tips:
Save Energy This Winter
- Turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees or lower and bundle up with a cozy sweater and warm socks.
- Look into easy solutions like weather-stripping and caulking to prevent cold air from entering your home.
- Close curtains & blinds at night to protect against cold drafts. Open them during the day to let in the sun’s warmth.
- Clean or replace your furnace filter regularly. A dirty filter will slow air flow and make your system work harder.
- Keep the garage door closed as much as possible to help buffer cold outdoor air from trickling into your home.
So the next time you’re tempted to turn the heat up, go put on a sweater, grab a nice throw; fix a hot cup of tea, and remind yourself how much money you’ll save over the course of the season if you leave it where it is.