How to Keep Warm without Heating Up Your Bill

The following is a guest post from Andrea Woroch.  Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who regularly contributes to leading national and regional news stories. She has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Dr. OZ, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, and been quoted in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Better Homes & Garden and many others. 

Bundle up, America: it’s going to be a cold winter.

The Energy Department expects the price of natural gas to increase a whopping 13 percent over last year’s rates, to the tune of about $679. Homeowners using electricity to warm their abodes can expect a 2 percent increase in heating costs.

If this news isn’t enough to make you shiver, experts predict this winter will be colder than it has been over the last two years. In addition to stockpiling blankets and tea bags, consider these tips to stay warm this winter without overheating your energy bill.

1. Look for Leaks
No matter how high you crank up that thermostat, your house will never be warm enough if your doors and windows aren’t properly sealed. Take the time to test air loss throughout your home and properly seal the areas prone to leakage, including baseboards, attic hatches and electrical outlets. The Department of Energy’s article on detecting air leaks can help you cover all your bases.

2. Ask for a Free Audit
Most energy companies offer free home audits that offer expert-level understanding of where your home is losing heat. If you’re lucky, a few strips of duct tape may be all you need to repair leaky ductwork. It’s probably a good idea to schedule an audit after you make the effort to patch air leaks to determine if you missed anything.

3. Start with the Attic
A well-insulated attic to save you up to 50 percent on your heating bill, so evaluate the insulation levels in your attic and replenish accordingly. Additionally, check the air seal around attic access points as these are often overlooked and can result in significant heat loss. For more information on how to properly insulate your attic, read these tips from the experts at This Old House.

4. Get on a Schedule
If you haven’t purchased a programmable thermostat, this year is definitely the time to invest. You can save up to 10 percent on these devices by purchasing discount gift cards through to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Once you find a device you like, create a schedule you can stick to and remember to adjust it when you leave for extended periods of time.

5. Condense Your Space
By closing windows and doors to unused rooms, it will take less time and ultimately less energy to heat the areas you use most. You can go so far as to place a towel at the base of closed doors to better lock in the heat. Make sure ceiling fans in heated rooms are reversed and on low to better circulate warm air. Don’t forget to open your shades during the day–the sun’s rays will naturally warm up your home.

6. Consider a Space Heater
Space heaters offer supplemental heat without increasing your heating bill. According to Consumer Reports, you can buy top-rated heaters for as little as $40 while keeping your thermostat set to as low as 60 degrees. Safety is paramount, so read up on user and expert reviews before purchasing a unit and place it on ceramic tile instead of carpet or table tops.

7. Bundle Up
Nothing says cozy like a good down comforter, heavy blanket and flannel sheets. When in doubt, keep the thermostat low and stock up on warm bedding and toasty attire. Flannel sheets will do the trick too and you can usually find fun prints that your kiddos will love to sleep with. I personally enjoy a cooler night’s rest bundled under covers. I recommend searching for quality bedding at discount retailers like Homegoods and TJMax. Otherwise, wait until Veteran’s Day for deals at department stores like Macy’s.

Is Your Boiler Costing Too Much?

According to the Energy Saving Trust, boilers account for 55% of the average UK consumer spend on energy each year. However, this figure could be even higher if your old boiler is energy munching, with a terrible energy efficiency rating.

By replacing an old gas boiler with an A-rated condenser boiler, you could save as much as £310 per year, not to be sniffed at if your finances are anything like mine. By replacing your boiler, you will also be cutting down on your home’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Why choose to upgrade?

It’s all very well saying that you can’t afford to upgrade your boiler, but you have to look at the bigger picture. If you have an older boiler, that’s not a modern condenser, then it’s likely to be burning fuel less efficiently than it could and this means it’s costing you more money.

Saving money in the short term by not replacing an old boiler is a false economy, as you will spend out more in the long term. A condensing boiler has a bigger heat exchanger, so it recovers more heat and sends colder gases up the flue, making it more efficient.

It doesn’t apply to me, I rent

Not only homeowners can think about having a new boiler installed and those who are hard up can actually get help with having an old one replaced. The Affordable Warmth scheme is available to tenants, landlords and homeowners in receipt of certain benefits.

These include:

  • Pension credits
  • Working tax credits
  • Child tax credits
  • Income support
  • Jobseekers allowance

However, even if you don’t qualify, approved vendors often have low-cost payment schemes where you can pay monthly or weekly to suit your budget. If you do qualify, then make sure you look into cavity wall and loft insulation to get your bills right down at the same time.

Given the state of the British summer this year, it’s a good bet that you’ll only have the heating off for a small proportion of the year, so now’s as good a time as any to begin saving.

Choosing a boiler installation company

Not all firms are created equally when it comes to the service they offer for boiler replacement. Bearing this in mind, it’s a good idea to ask around for a local company with a great reputation and credibility.

When it comes to having a boiler fitted, you really can’t afford to take chances so ensure that all plumbers are Corgi registered and have a delve around some forums to see what others are saying about them.

It’s recommended that you go to the competent person website, SNIPEF or for a list of registered installers. For oil boilers try to use an OFTEC registered installer, details of these can be found on the website.

To avoid meeting any installers that are not registered, or perhaps don’t have the required level of expertise, consider the following:

  • Are they easy to contact, is there a local office for the contractor?
  • How long has the installer been in business?
  • Do they have customer testimonials that you can check out?

Contact and length of business is important here, as you will need to get in touch with them for warranty or in the event of an emergency. For those that haven’t been in business for long, then it’s a shame but unfortunately in this field, reputation really is important.

Getting quotes

Aim to get three quotes from different suppliers and whilst requesting, take the time to speak to the installer and gain their advice. A good vendor will be only too happy to go through the best options for you.

Quotations should include the following information:

  • Design conditions and temperatures, including for each room
  • The work being carried out (is it a new boiler or an extension to an existing one)
  • Make, model and location of the boiler, including heat output KW
  • Flue type and whether a new is being supplied or the old one reused
  • Fuel storage, if applicable
  • Ventilation
  • Wiring
  • Location of sensors and thermostat controls
  • Building work to be carried out
  • Guarantee details
  • Contractual advice
  • Qualifications held

Often, qualifications are included by default on vendor estimates, if this information is missing though, proceed with caution.

The great British weather is getting worse it seems, winter by winter and even in the spring and summer months and with the cost of fuel being at an all-time high, you could save substantial sums every year by replacing your boiler.

DIY Projects that Sound Scary, But Aren’t

In the world of frugality, there are few things that will save you more money than learning a few DIY skills.  From simple things like replacing the light switch cover, to more difficult things like wiring electrical, the savings of doing it yourself over hiring a professional to do it can mean hundreds and even thousands that remains in your pocket.  It also seems like the more money a DIY project can save you, the more likely you are to find people who think the prospect of attempting it to be scary.

While I can’t advocate trying something that you’re completely uncomfortable doing, and uneducated about, I think both situations are completely solvable.  Learning what you can about a task can make it something that you’re far more comfortable doing.  We live in the information age, with access to so much more information than any other time in the history of our species.  We have the ability to learn things by watching videos on YouTube.  We can access websites that will have all the detailed instructions for a repair project, or new project.  Many of those have step-by-step instructions.  In short, there’s just no excuse for at least attempting to learn how to do the project and then deciding whether it’s something you want to tackle or not.  Sometimes, you decide it’s not something you want to tackle.  And that’s O.K. too.

So, what are some DIY projects that sound scary, but really aren’t all that bad?

  • DIY Projects that sound scaryPlumbing – Ok, I have to admit this is one of my least favorite project types to take on.  I do take them on, but it seems like every time I do, it takes me a few times to get it right.  And a few extra trips to the hardware store.  At it’s core, plumbing isn’t all that complicated.  The water starts in one place, and you place some pipes to move it from the starting place to the ending place.  For me anyways, it’s all the different fittings and fixtures that seem to always give me trouble.  My kitchen sink was a notorious problem project for me.  I redid that mess three times before calling in the big guns (my dad) when we remodeled the whole kitchen.  I was slightly reassured when even he made a few extra trips to the hardware store.
  • Electrical – If plumbing is the project type I dislike but do, electrical is the project type that I dislike and usually don’t do.  For some reason, I just have a really hard time getting my head around the way it works.  Outlets are easy, I suppose, but then you start getting into switches, circuits, and crazy electrical diagrams.  One day, I’ll take the time to do the right research and learning and actually feel confident enough to take a few of these project on.  I know they aren’t all that scary, I just don’t understand them.
  • Appliance repair – With some of the newer appliances, all the gadgetry can be a daunting adversary.  Fortunately, in most cases, the real machinery of the appliance hasn’t changed much over the years.  There’s just new, smarter, brains driving the machine.  Which means, if the issue isn’t with the brains of the appliance, you can easily find and fix the problem.  In the last year, I’ve repaired our fridge, coffee machine, and dryer.  And a little maintenance to your appliances goes a long way.  Sure, the coffee maker could have easily been replaced, but I was able to fix it and we still use it today.  A few spare parts and some time saved us the expense of a repair technician coming and fixing the fridge and dryer and there are plenty of guides to be found online that give instructions on some simple appliance fixes.
  • Tiling – When we remodeled our bathroom, we decided that we wanted to tile the floor and shower splash.  I’d never tiled before, so it was a somewhat daunting task.  I spent a little time going over instructions and videos on DIY Network’s site to get a general handle on it, then went and bought the supplies and did it.  Like many things I do for the first time, there are plenty of things that I would do differently, but the end result was that the floor and splash got tiled, and several years later, it still looks great.

I suppose the point isn’t really to list out all the projects that might sound scary to a DIY homeowner.  It’s really to point out that a lot of the projects that you and I might think are scary to take on really probably aren’t that hard.  A little time spend learning the techniques and basic principles of the project will likely lead us to being able to learn the skills needed to complete the task.  Even if it takes a couple extra trips to the hardware store.