Keep winter energy bills in check

As temperatures drop, the potential for higher utility bills goes up. Taking steps ahead of the cold season can help you trim costs and make your home more energy efficient, keeping those utility bills in check even as the winter weather rages.

“Many homeowners just assume the winter season means their bills will go up as systems work harder to keep their home regulated,” said Francois Lebrasseur, marketing manager of water products for GE Appliances. “In reality, there are many steps one can take to improve energy efficiency and minimize the added expense that comes with extreme winter temperatures.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity costs are on the rise. Before winter weather sets in, take some time to assess your home for potential problem areas and improvements that can help lower your energy costs.

Lighting. Though turning off unneeded lights is a smart strategy any time of year, it’s especially helpful during the winter months when utility expenses can add up. New technology lets you manage your lights away from home — handy if you’re gone for the day and realize lights were left on. Energy-efficient LED lights can also come in handy if you’re away from home for an extended period or traveling over the holidays, as you can turn specific lights on to give the appearance that someone is home so you can vacation worry-free.

Water heaters. Heat isn’t the only system that gets an extra workout come winter. Cooler house temperatures may require water heaters to work harder, so ensuring you have a model well-suited to your family’s year-round needs is key. In fact, heating water is the second source of energy use in the residential home after space heating and cooling, with standard electric water heaters costing the average homeowner $585 every year to operate.

Thermostat. A programmable thermostat is easy to install and saves energy (and money) by automatically adjusting to pre-determined temperature settings. This allows you to drop the temperature during the day when no one is home, but have a comfortable environment ready when you arrive home from work each day. Depending on the model you choose, you can select numerous settings to adjust your indoor climate for various days to fit your lifestyle patterns. According to Energy Star, when used properly, a programmable thermostat can save as much as $150 a year in energy costs.

Air leaks. An airtight house is critical to managing your heat-related expenses. You take time to close windows and doors to prevent heat from escaping, but that’s only half the battle. Sealing cracks around those windows and doors, and other leak-prone areas such as the basement and attic, will help keep heat inside and costs down.