From weather-stripping windows to using the right light bulbs, these smart and simple tips can help keep your family cozy and your energy costs low.

While Americans continue to take precautions to manage the spread of COVID-19, many people will be spending even more time at home during colder months. As a result, households may be seeing higher energy bills from keeping heat, lights, and computers on as the temperature drops—and as work continues to shift from the office to the home. The extra costs will be especially challenging for people out of work or facing other burdens resulting from the pandemic, and for low-income households and communities of color, which already spend a larger percentage of their income on energy.

Fortunately, there are ways to cut heating and other energy costs and still keep our homes comfortable as the weather gets colder. Here are some energy-saving tips that can help cut costs as you spend even more time indoors during the cold-weather months.

  1. Keep the Heat Inside

One of the best ways to stay warm is to make sure your home isn’t leaking heat. Up to a third of a typical home’s heat loss occurs through windows and doors. Air can also leak into or out of the house through the cracks and gaps inside your home, such as electrical outlets, baseboards and attic hatches. Seal around these openings to make your home less drafty and keep warm air inside. Caulking leaks can save an average household 10 to 20 percent on annual heating and cooling bills, or up to $166 per year. Weather-stripping your windows can save you an additional 5 to 10 percent annually on heating and cooling bills, or up to $83 per year.

Closing the curtains during the winter helps reduce up to 10 percent in heat loss from a warm room. If curtains are hung close to the windows, they can help prevent as much as one-fourth of that heat loss. However, opening curtains on sunlit windows during the day can help boost temperatures via solar energy. Just remember to close the curtains at night or on windows that don’t get as much sun. Lower your thermostat by seven to 10 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day to save up to 10 percent annually on your heating and cooling bills (about $83 per year for an average household).

  1. Turn the Thermostat Down

Lowering the thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees while you sleep at night can also help save approximately 10 percent on your heating bills. A smart thermostat also can be programmed based on when you are usually home or away and what temperature you prefer during those times. Some smart thermostats even let you control your heating (and cooling) system by phone or voice or via a mobile app. The cost of a smart thermostat can vary from $130 to $200, but it can end up paying for itself, as it can save you around $180 a year in energy costs.

In the Kansas City metro area, Missouri customers of Evergy can get a limited-time offer of a free ecobee3lite smart thermostat, which retails for $169.

  1. Inspect and Replace Your Furnace Filter Regularly

This is also a good time for basic maintenance of your heating and cooling systems. Ensure furnace filters are clean, so the equipment isn’t working harder than it needs to be. Some filters can be cleaned and reused, but others must be replaced entirely, so check your model’s maintenance requirements. Consider calling an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) professional to evaluate your system for further improvements.

  1. Use Devices Efficiently

Many people continuously use technology for work, school, entertainment and socializing, especially as we spend more time indoors in cold weather. That can hike energy use—and bills. Using the energy saver mode on your devices, appliances and even some heating equipment could go a long way toward easily reducing energy consumption without sacrificing performance. Depending on your products, this may also be called “low power mode,” “battery saver,” or something similar.

Make sure your TV’s standard or normal picture setting is selected and that energy-saving features like automatic brightness control are enabled. Enable “auto power down” on your gaming console to ensure the device goes into low-power mode when not in use. ENERGY STAR estimates that using these power management features could save you up to $30 a year.  Also, avoid accessing streaming video through your game console. The game console can use at least 10 times more energy to stream a movie than, say, a Roku box or the app on your smart TV.

Shut down devices you’re not using. If you need a power strip to plug in more devices and equipment and make it easier to turn them off at once, consider an advanced power strip to reduce electricity waste from idle devices that may still be consuming power in standby mode. The Department of Energy has more advice for curbing energy waste from devices that may appear to be switched off but are still using electricity, also known as “energy vampires.”

Here are more tips for some of the most energy-intensive appliances in our homes:

  • Use cold water for laundry and wash full loads to save on energy and water heating.
  • Try not to open the oven door to check on your food—the temperature may drop as much as 25 degrees, requiring more energy to heat up again.
  • Lowering the temperature on your water heater from 140 degrees to 120 degrees can potentially save you up to $400 a year—and you won’t notice the difference.
  1. Choose the Right Lights and Appliances

Shopping for new devices and appliances? Check out the ENERGY STAR website for information on which models have earned the blue-and-white label for being the most efficient on the market, meaning your utility bills will be lower. Need to replace light bulbs? Choose LEDs. They’ll keep you well-lit for your video meetings while saving you money. Just one LED bulb may save you $50 or more over the course of its lifetime—the average household has at least 40 light sockets, so your savings will add up quickly.

Continuing to stay at home in the coming months will present many challenges, such as higher heating bills, in addition to already existing pandemic-related burdens and difficulties. These tips can help keep you a little more comfortable as temperatures drop. Stay warm and stay safe this winter season.

Story: Natural Resources Defense Council / Ashley Leung

Photo: NRDC / Zeljko Santrac / iStock