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Everyday Cheapskate: But Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Mary Hunt on

It's not only the price of heating oil that has shot through the stratosphere this fall. Homes that heat with electricity are at risk because many utilities run on natural gas, and the price of it has gone up, too.

Thankfully, there are steps we can take to reduce high heating bills. Experts say it is not unreasonable that you could reduce your bill by as much as 30% if you:

Adjust the thermostat. You really should keep the thermostat at 68 F during the day and 60 F at night. Does it feel too cold? Wear extra sweaters, and don't forget to regulate the humidity. Keeping the relative humidity between 30% and 50% can make 68 F feel more like 74 F. You can get a humidifier or keep a pan of water simmering on the stove.

Consider installing a programmable thermostat that will automatically lower the heat at night and raise it before you wake up. They cost anywhere from $40 to $250 depending on how high-tech you want to go, but will quickly pay for themselves in energy savings.

Install weatherstripping. Weatherstripping is very inexpensive and available at any home improvement center. It is self-adhesive, so it sticks to just about anything. Use it on drafty doors and windows and any place where a crack allows warm air to escape. Weatherstripping does not last indefinitely and should be replaced every year or two. If you are diligent in making sure every possible opening is weather-stripped, you can expect to recoup 15% of your heating bill.

Plug the leaks. All kinds of places cannot be weather-stripped, and require caulking instead. If you can visualize money rather than warm air leaking out of all those crevices and open places, you might be more motivated to plug them up.

Water heater. If you don't already have one, spend $20 and get an insulation blanket for your electric water heater. You will save twice that amount each year in lower heating costs. That's how much heat escapes from an unwrapped heater.

If you have an electric water heater, here's a great idea: You only need to keep it on about eight hours a day. Turn it off before you leave for work, then back on when you return, and off again at night and back on one hour before you wake up. Of course, you need a timer to do all of this, but they're relatively inexpensive. Some electric water heaters come with timers installed. Gas water heaters do not have timers.


Insulate. If one heater blanket on your water heater can make that kind of a difference, imagine if you put a blanket on your whole house! That's just about what insulation is. Even if your home is insulated, get an inspection to determine if it is adequate. If the house was built before 1980 and not upgraded since, you can be sure you do not have enough insulation.

It is not difficult to install rolls of fiberglass insulation in the attic yourself. Just make sure you follow the manufacturer's safety guidelines. It's simply a matter of hauling it up there and rolling it out. You will more than recoup the cost of insulation through reduced energy bills. Insulation is a good investment.

Accept help. If you fear higher heating costs will cause you undue hardship, there may be help. Call your utility company and inquire about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. This is a federally funded block grant program that helps ease the energy cost burden of low-income individuals. Federal requirements are minimal and leave most important decisions to local jurisdictions.

Go to, where you will find a link for calculating energy use in residential buildings. The "DIY Home Energy Assessments" can help you manage your energy costs. Key in your zip code and answer a quiz to get a customized energy audit of your home, instant energy use estimates and a road map to future savings.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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