15 Ways to Lower Energy Costs this Winter in Your Nebraska Home

December 16, 2020

You've probably already used your heating system, switched to your flannel pajamas and pulled out the extra blankets. But winter has only just begun. Optimizing your home for energy savings this season should be on your to-do list. Eco-friendlier living might be easier than you think. Plus, it saves you money each month. By doing a few chores and making some simple switches, you can lower your energy bill and your carbon footprint. Here are 15 steps to a greener Nebraska winter:

1. Turn Down Your Thermostat

Nudge your thermostat down one or two degrees and cover up with more layers to compensate. You should also turn back your thermostat by about 10 degrees when you're away from home eight hours or longer. With a smart thermostat, you can program your heater to change automatically according to your schedule. Some smart thermostats are designed to help optimize energy performance. 

2. Install a Shut-off Timer for Your Water Heater

A local plumber can install a water heater timer for you, which lets you set your water heater to automatically shut off during the time you're normally asleep. By reducing the time your water heater spends running each day, you can reduce your energy use and save money month after month.

3. Use a Clean-Burning Stove

Fireplaces and stoves that burn recycled biomass materials like wood chips and wood pellets are an eco-friendly way to warm up your home. You can also find gas stoves and gas fireplaces that burn natural gas. These clean-burning models don't pollute your air like an open fireplace.  Compared to cranking up the thermostat, they save money and lower your carbon footprint. Clean-burning stoves can have up to 80% energy efficiency, which is higher than many traditional furnaces on the market [1].

4. Make Your Home Airtight

Scan your windows and doors for air leaks. You don't want to miss any, because anywhere that air can escape will require your indoor heating system to work harder and you can expect to see it show on your energy bill.

Use weather-stripping to seal any cracks. Next, check for drafts where your pipes and electrical wiring comes through the walls, floors, and ceilings. Use caulk or a foam sealant to plug up any holes letting air seep through. 

5. Switch to Natural Gas

Natural gas is a clean, renewable energy source. It comes from the combustible gas emitted during the decomposition of organic matter. The gas gets processed and purified into a low-cost, low-emissions biogas [2].

Nebraska residents can benefit from the state's own production of natural gas when they switch over to a natural gas provider. When you sign up for the Nebraska Choice Gas Program, you get the chance to choose the supplier, price and commitment term that works best for you. The Nebraska Choice Gas Program reads the meters on your natural gas system and collects your energy bills, so no matter the supplier you choose you can be confident with your selection. 

6. Change Your Light Bulbs to LED

With less daylight coming in, we use more lighting this time of year. LED lights are much more energy-efficient, using up to 75% less energy compared to conventional lighting [3]. Switch to LED lightbulbs to keep your home bright and cheery through the winter. You'll also reduce your electric bill! Light bulbs with the ENERGY STAR® label are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be energy-efficient.

7. Adjust Refrigerator and Freezer Temperatures

Set your refrigerator's temperature to 37 degrees and set your freezer to zero degrees. Food keeps fresh at these temperatures, but less energy is used to maintain the temperature setting as the doors get opened and closed. Stocking up food in your freezer helps save energy, too, because more frozen food helps keep the temperature down.

8. Adjust Your Water Heater's Temperature

Water heaters are usually set to 140 degrees, but changing the temperature to 120 degrees lowers energy costs while still giving your home hot water. Washing your laundry with cold water instead of hot also goes a long way in reducing water heating costs during the winter. If you're going away for a trip, be sure to turn your water heater down to the lowest setting.

9. Update Old Appliances

Your appliances make up a huge chunk of your electricity usage. Check your appliances to see if they're ENERGY STAR®-certified models, which means they've been tested by the U.S. Department of Energy to be energy-efficient and are approved by the EPA. If you have an old dishwasher, water heater, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit or washer and dryer, you might consider replacing them. Energy-efficient models can use as much as 50% less electricity than models that aren't optimized for efficiency. 

10. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

Did you know that reversing your ceiling fan's direction from the default counterclockwise to clockwise? When you do this in the winter, you prevent warm air from your heating vents from staying trapped at the top of your home while the floor remains cold. When ceilings fans blow in a clockwise direction, they pull air upwards, pulling away the cold air on the ground and pushing the warm air at the ceiling around to circulate. Most ceiling fans have a switch on them you can reach with a ladder to change the direction.

11. Smart Power Strips

Many appliances drain electricity even when they're turned off or not in use. These "vampire" appliances don't stop using up electricity until they're physically unplugged. However, smart power strips are a way around it. When you plug TVs and other devices into a smart power strip, it cuts off the flow of power to the device when turned off (on "standby") so they don't waste energy.

12. Energy Efficient Shower Heads

Showers account for a lot of our daily electricity usage because of the hot water we use. Switching to an energy-efficient shower head helps by reducing the water your shower uses. Showerheads certified by WaterSense have been tested and approved by the EPA to be energy-efficient. When you make the switch, you can save an estimated 2,700 gallons of water each year, which is a lot of hot water.

13. Turn Off the Ice Maker on Your Refrigerator

Not using your fridge's electric ice maker during winter? Unless you shut it off, it stays running 24/7. Turning it off lowers your refrigerator's electricity usage, and you can use ice cube molds to make ice if needed.

14. Update Your HVAC Filters

HVAC filters need replacing after a certain period. If they aren't, the HVAC unit starts to guzzle up more electricity. In general, panel HVAC filters should get replaced once a month, pleated filters every 3 to 4 months, and media filters every 6 months. Check the air filter type on your HVAC system and any information it gives on filter replacement.

15. Switch to Solar for Your Outdoor Lighting

If you have outdoor lighting, switching to solar lights can cut the expense from your energy bill. Solar lights work by absorbing energy from sunlight in the daytime. By nighttime, they're able to use that energy to light your porch, deck or driveway.

Nebraska homes require a great deal of power in the wintertime to heat water and air amidst frigid temperatures. Putting together the tips on this list adds up, and you'll begin to see your electric bill go down. With a few chores, projects and small investments, you can optimize your home for energy savings.

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