The High Cost of Keeping Warm

By Ashley Marcin on 22 December 2016 1 comment

Feeling chilly? You're not alone. As temperatures plummet across the United States and beyond, people are reaching for their scarves and sweaters, inching up their thermostats, and finding all sorts of other ways to keep warm. How much does it all cost? Here are a few numbers to mull over while you microwave your hot cocoa.

Cost of Keeping Warm

Let's start our look at the costs associated with keeping warm close to home — in fact this starts right at home.

The Price of Home Heating

Likely one of the biggest ticket items of all is heating your home. The state of Massachusetts, for example, released projections for annual home heating costs last year by fuel type. These numbers are staggering, but — surprisingly — are down an average of 22% from the previous year.

  • $879 for natural gas;
  • $2,248 for oil;
  • $2,569 for propane;
  • $697 for electric heating.

Note: How much you'll spend on heat depends on a number of factors, including how energy efficient your home is, as well as the condition of your furnace or other heating appliances.

My husband and I learned the hard way that a new gas furnace and installation can set you back $4,000 or more. And it's not exactly one of those things you can put off until next season or even next week, especially if it dies when the temperatures are below zero and you have a newborn in the house.

The Price of Home Energy Efficiency

Many people choose to undertake big home projects to make their houses more energy efficient. Adding insulation to attics and walls is a popular choice to help keep heat inside. The average cost of installing blown-in insulation ranges from $875 to $1,897, according to HomeAdvisor.

Other insulation price averages include:

  • $1,000 for spray foam insulation;
  • $300 to $500 for fiberglass batt;
  • $675 to $1,075 for reflective or radiant barrier.

Thankfully, this cost is most often a one-time thing. And increasing your home's insulation can help save up to $500 (spray foam) a year in heating/cooling costs. Plus, some states even offer weatherization rebates and tax credits. To see if you apply, visit Energy.gov.

Environmental Costs

Perhaps more important than money, heating homes taxes the Earth's resources. It burns fossil fuels that are in relatively short supply. Not only that, but there's also energy and expense involved in extracting the fuels, transporting them, and — in the end — waste that is left behind when the process is done.

Currently, fossil fuels are used in the United States to power up to 81% of our energy needs. And when you're talking about global warming — a good chunk of that has to do with home heating as well. In 2014, the fossil fuels burned for heating made up 12% of overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable and Cost-Effective Ways to Cozy Up

There's good news here: You can tweak your routine slightly and still keep warm, all while not breaking the bank or harming the environment.

Layer Up

Before you crank up the heat, look at what you're wearing. Slip on a base layer of a moisture-wicking fabric, like polyester, and don't skimp on the hats and scarves. Yes, even indoors! The folks at The Old Farmer's Almanac remind us to cover our feet as well. Consider buying an inexpensive pair of rubber-soled slippers or warming feet with a bulky pair of wool socks.

Program Your Thermostat

You can save up to 10% off your energy bill by setting your thermostat seven to 10 degrees cooler in the eight hours when you're at work. Better yet, take your own forgetfulness out of the equation and install a programmable thermostat that will automatically do the work for you.

Try the Fan Trick

Switch the direction of your ceiling fan so it will circulate warm air during the winter (usually clockwise). How it works: The air is sucked up by the fan in the center of the room and then pushed down around the edges. The result is a more even temperature throughout the room (and your whole house, if you're performing this trick in multiple rooms).

Fill in Cracks

You may want to take a walk around your home to do a mini energy audit. Basically, you're looking for drafts around windows, doors, and any other openings or cracks in your home. You can inexpensively add weather stripping to doors and windows.

You may even want to use some plastic or bubble wrap for particularly drafty windows. To do this yourself, frame the window with double-sided tape, peel off backing, and apply bubble wrap. You may want to add another layer of tape and cover the bubble wrap with plastic film insulation.

Use the Sun

Try opening your curtains and letting the sunlight indoors during the day. Alternatively, close the curtains at night to keep the warm air inside. You could also consider investing in some thermal curtains. Some claim they can help you save up to 25% on your heating and cooling bills.

Rearrange Your Spaces

Give your rooms a new look and feel by moving furniture around so it won't block vents, radiators, and other heating elements. You don't want your couch hogging all the heat and making your system less efficient. If your floors are bare, add a rug that helps insulate your space and keeps your toes warmer.

Oh, and if you have rooms you don't often use, close them up. This way, you're heating a smaller area. Just make sure you close the vents in these spaces.

Use Alternatives

There are other ways to heat your home that don't involve using a furnace or boiler. Wood heat is sustainable — if carbon intensive — because it utilizes a renewable resource. Modern woodstoves are much more efficient and produce less pollution than older models. Still, many environmentalists shy from wood because it does cause the most pollution of alternative heating sources. Pellet stoves, on the other hand, run on a similar idea, but they are friendlier to the planet.

One of the cleanest alternatives? Harnessing the power of the sun. You may want to look into a solar hot air system to supplement your primary heating source. It involves collectors placed on southern-facing walls and fans to push the air indoors. If you're building a new home, look into passive solar design, which can supply 50% to 80% of your home's heat.

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Guest's picture
Guest

Our house has five zones of heat and we only use two of them in the winter so that saves a lot since we live in New Jersey where the winters are quite cold. Even then, the zones we have on are only set to 60F. We do this solely because our heating system is fossil fuel-based and we feel guilty using a non-renewable resource. One thing that really helps is that whenever we are sitting (using the computer or watching TV or reading), we use an electric blanket. This makes a huge difference in comfort.

Guest's picture
Matt

I am not sure where you got your numbers for electric in comparison to natural gas but the natural gas is about right for my area. However the electic is way out of line and should be 4 times as much. Are you compairing apples to apples?