1. Keep the thermostat low.
Simply put, the closer your thermostat is set to the outside temperature, the less energy you use—and the less you have to pay for. Even a few degrees can make a huge difference. Try keeping your thermostat at 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65-68 degrees at night. This can reduce your heating costs by 5 to 20 percent!
If no one is home during the day, turn the thermostat down even lower. What's the point of heating an empty house?
2. Raise the thermostat slowly.
When you crank the temperature up, the heat strip is activated, which is a major drain on energy. By raising it one degree every 15 minutes or so, less energy has to be expended all at once.
3. Close the flue in the fireplace.
Many people forget that there is a wide open door right to their living room through the chimney. Glass doors on the hearth work well for insulation. Keep the flue closed except when using the fireplace—and on Christmas Eve, of course.
4. Turn down your water heater.
There's no need for your water heater to be cranked higher than necessary. Keep it on the "normal" setting, or 120 degrees Fahrenheit, unless otherwise directed by the manual. This can save you up to 10 percent on your water heating costs.
You can even install a timer on your water heater so it turns off while you're out during the day. Just keep in mind that most units take about an hour to heat back up.
5. Wash clothing with cold water.
Speaking of your water heater, as long as you are using laundry detergent, cold water works just as well as warm or hot when it comes to your washing machine. This simple trick will save you up to $.40 per load! That's enough to make you nostalgic for the old days of having a pocketful of quarters at the Laundromat. And if you simply must use hot water, just be sure you have a full load every time you wash.
6. Keep vents and filters clean.
Obstructions in your vents or filters can cause them to overwork in order to compensate for the restricted airflow. Do yourself a favor by cleaning these out completely and then keeping them clear year-round. With cleaner air circulating in your home, you may even feel healthier, too.
7. Winterize your windows.
Caulk the cracks around windows and doors temporarily during the winter months to eliminate leaks. For a quick and easy option, tape window films over each drafty culprit.
8. Use insulating curtains.
While some curtains are specially marketed as "energy efficient," the truth is that any barriers are better than none. Windows—especially large or old ones—are the biggest source of drafts in the home (and therefore cause higher heating bills).
9. Use natural heat.
Especially with windows that aren't drafty, keep curtains open during the day and let the sun's natural heat radiate into a room. If you have cats, they'll be especially grateful.
10. Close off rooms you don't use.
If you have certain rooms that you don't have a need to inhabit over the winter—looking at you, Empty Nester—close any vents and keep the door shut. One less room to heat can save you a lot of energy.
11. Make a homemade draft snake.
Snakes are natural predators, and what better prey than energy-zapping coldness? Draft stoppers sold in stores, while inexpensive, aren't nearly as fun as making your own. Plus, you can customize the fabric and length so that your snake is just for you.
Simply sew the long edges of a long piece of fabric in a straight line, inside out. Try sewing one end at a diagonal for a more contemporary look. Turn right side out, and then fill it--rice makes great filler, as it's naturally insulating and you probably have plenty in the pantry. Stitch the other end closed, and set along the bottom of the door or window for a cute, insulating accessory that would make your grandmother proud.
12. Wear extra clothing.
With all of these energy-saving tips in mind, the most important thing to keep in mind is your family's comfort. Making it a habit to wear nice warm sweaters, thick socks and slippers, and to have plenty of blankets on each bed will have a huge impact on your happiness while saving money on your energy bill.
What other tips do you have for reducing your energy costs this season?
Sarah Kellner writes cold-weather energy-saving tips for Home Depot. Sarah's advice for homeowners includes smart actions regarding furnaces, thermostats, doors and windows, water heaters and more. Home Depot's selection of energy-saving water heaters can be viewed at homedepot.com.