Eastern Nebraska has already experienced some below-freezing temperatures this fall. Now that the winter months are nearly here, many of us will be making some changes in our homes to stay warm. The changes can help keep you comfortable during the colder months while using energy more efficiently.
You’re probably familiar with some of the most common seasonal changes people make at home: Switching the direction of your ceiling fan(s) from counter-clockwise to clockwise; having your furnace inspected by a licensed HVAC technician; lowering your thermostat when you leave the home; sealing your ductwork; and balancing your airflow.
But you can take additional steps to stay cozy while keeping your energy costs under control.
The thermostat temperature recommendations you see online or get from your friends often suggest keeping your home at 68 degrees to improve energy efficiency. Although this recommendation is well-intended, that setting is not always best.
The problem? Sixty-eight degrees in one home will not feel the same as 68 degrees in another home. Not only that, but the cost of keeping a home at 68 degrees – whether heating or cooling – will differ from one house to the next. If a home is not energy-efficient (i.e., well-insulated with an efficient HVAC system and very few leaks, etc.), it will likely cost more to cool or heat a home to 68 degrees than one that is energy-efficient.
So, what should you do? It comes down to what you are comfortable with physically and financially. Just as we pay more for a better seat/class on an airline flight, or for an upgraded hotel room, we pay more for comfort, one way or another.
My recommendation is to set the thermostat to a temperature that will keep you comfortable, then work out accommodations from there:
If these accommodations make you more comfortable, then you can look at lowering the thermostat by a few degrees to save on your heating costs, whether that be natural gas, propane or electric.
The cost to set your thermostat just one degree higher could increase your natural gas usage by as much as 3%. This may not seem like a lot if you just do so for an hour or so, but if this occurs every day, it adds up, especially if you will need the extra warmth for longer than an hour.
Instead, especially if you’re home alone, using a space heater on low (700 watts) as needed can keep you comfortable without having to waste energy on heating the rest of your home. No matter the size of your home, this measure helps reduce the amount of energy required to stay comfortable.
As always, when using a space heater, be sure to follow its safety guidelines.
One caveat to using a space heater, as with anything that uses electricity, is to be mindful of the amount of time you use it.
If you use that 700 W space heater for one hour, it will cost me seven cents per day. If you use it for an hour every day, it will cost you about $2.18 on your monthly OPPD bill. Turning your thermostat up one degree will cost you more than an extra $2.18 a month.
But, if you used that space heater at 700W for eight hours a day, all month, it will cost you about 57 cents a day, or $17.50 a month. Now, will that cost be lower than the turning your furnace up a degree or two? Yes. But, keep in mind 1) the space heater is on low, which uses about 700 W, whereas high uses 1500 W or 1.5 kW, and 2) this is only to make one room more comfortable. At some point, you’ll have to make the whole house comfortable.
The bottom line, when it comes to using space heaters, is to make sure you lower the thermostat if it’s just you in the home in a small area, and only use a space heater when you need it.
Radiant energy is not reserved for just the sun’s heating of the Earth’s surface and the sidewalks that lace our neighborhoods together. We also experience this process in the winter time. It, essentially, is what makes us cold: We lose our heat.
Gases move from high-pressure areas to low-pressure areas. Heat flows from hot objects to cold objects.
This is where well-insulated walls, attics and even floors come into play. Think about walking barefoot on a stone-tiled bathroom floor. That can make your feet cold, which ultimately starts to make you cold. It’s more direct (e.g. foot to stone), but immediately your body’s heat starts leaving for the cold. This concept often occurs in the home, but in a more indirect way.
If you stand next to a cold wall, especially an uninsulated wall on the north side of your home, you will eventually start to get colder and colder. Your body’s heat will start to radiate to that wall. This concept applies to anything you sit by, sit on, or touch. Of course, long sleeves, sweaters, blankets and such can help slow the flow of your body heat (they’re like personal insulation), but you will feel colder and thus need more warmth.
Just as a blanket envelops you and keeps you warm, we want our homes to do the same when we turn on the heat. However, not all homes are energy-efficient, and we may not always have the money to make them that way. But we do have the ability to make adjustments to keep ourselves comfortable.
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