8 Winter Energy-Saving Tips for a Cozy, Efficient Home

These ideas, categorized from low to high effort, can help you and your clients save on utility bills as we enter the colder months.

woman sitting on her sofa drinking tea while wrapped in a blanket
© kupicoo – E+/Getty Images

An El Niño weather pattern is expected this winter, which could bring severe weather to many parts of the country. But cranking up the heat can be a fast-track to high energy bills. After all, heating and cooling account for nearly half of annual energy bill for the average American household, according to Energy Star.

So, before you set that thermostat too high, check out these winter energy-saving tips to help keep your home toasty without breaking the bank. Many of these tips can help you save money and use less energy all year long. 

1. Lower the Temperature on Your Thermostat

Why? The Department of Energy says you can save energy costs in the winter by setting your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re home—and even less when you’re away. Heat loss happens more slowly when the temperature inside your house is low, the department says.

Effort required: Low

Steps to take:

  • Set your thermostat to a low setting that’s still comfortable for everyone in your home.
  • Keep your thermostat a few degrees lower than normal when you’re asleep or out of the house.
  • Ensure your thermostat is located in a high-traffic area inside your home and away from areas with temperature extremes, such as near exterior doors, so it can accurately read the temperature. Depending on your thermostat, you can move it yourself or call an HVAC professional for help if needed.
  • Consider investing in a smart thermostat to set a schedule and more easily monitor your home’s energy usage.
  • Consider using small space heaters when you only need to heat a small part of your home.

2. Take Advantage of Natural Heat

Why? Passive heating uses the sun’s natural heat to warm up your home. Methods range from opening the blinds to choosing building materials that can trap heat during the day and release it in the evening. Even if your home wasn’t intentionally built with passive solar design in mind, you can still use a few low-effort tricks to harness the sun’s heat.

Effort required: Low

Steps to take:

  • Open your curtains or blinds during the day to let in the natural heat from the sun.
  • Close curtains or blinds at night to help insulate heat. 
  • Invest in thermal-insulated curtains to help keep warm air from escaping through windows.
  • Have ceiling fans rotate clockwise at a low speed to redistribute heat and prevent drafts. Doing so will pull cool air up and move warmer air throughout the room. 
  • Avoid planting evergreen trees south of your home, where they can block out the sun during the winter.

3. Monitor Energy Usage for Electronics

Why? The Energy Information Administration found that televisions, computers and other electronics—as well as miscellaneous energy uses, including dishwashers and cooking equipment—make up 45.2% of residential energy consumption. Spending more time indoors during the winter can mean more energy usage for making hot chocolate and coffee, watching classic holiday movies and getting cozy under an electric blanket. Don’t stop the holiday cheer, but consider a few ways to keep energy usage for electronics down.

Effort required: Low

Steps to take:

  • Set electronics and appliances to low-power or power-saving mode to reduce energy consumption.
  • Turn electronics off when you’re not using them. If electronics need to be on constantly, set them to low-power mode when you’re not using it.
  • Unplug devices when you’re away from home, especially when leaving for multiple days.
  • Plug small electronics into surge protectors or smart plugs to easily turn them off and on.

4. Upgrade Lighting and Lightbulbs

Why? Residential electricity prices in the U.S. grew 10.7% in 2022 and are projected to rise another 4% in 2023, according to the EIA. With these rising prices, additional lights—especially costly holiday strings of incandescent bulbs—will cause an increase in your electricity bill. Choosing LED holiday lights can save you up to 75%, since they use a quarter of the energy incandescent lighting does. Even if you aren’t putting up holiday lights, swapping out your home’s regular lights for energy-efficient bulbs can help you consume less electricity. LED lights also can last up to 25 times longer than regular incandescent bulbs.

Effort required: Low

Steps to take:

  • Turn off lights when you’re not using them. 
  • Replace lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED or CFL light bulbs.
  • Invest in smart bulbs to put lights on a schedule, monitor usage and easily adjust brightness.
  • Use energy-efficient holiday lights and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when stringing multiple strands together.

5. Prioritize Energy-Efficient Choices for Large Appliances

Why? Large appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, can consume a lot of energy. The EIA found that refrigerators and freezers were the fifth-largest source of residential energy consumption in 2022. Reducing your usage when possible, using power-saving settings and making energy-efficient upgrades, can keep electricity usage down with these appliances. For example, a household can save about $450 annually on energy bills when using products with high Energy Star ratings. 

Effort required: Low to medium

Steps to take:

  • Wash laundry in cold water and reduce the electricity needed to warm the water when possible.
  • Load appliances like washing machines and dishwashers with full loads—but don’t overfill them—to maximize energy usage.
  • Keep the oven door closed while food is cooking. The heat loss can result in more energy needed to heat the oven.
  • Consider using smaller appliances or alternative options whenever possible to reduce energy consumption with large appliances. For example, you can use a slow cooker for some meals instead of the oven, or air dry clothes instead of using the dryer.
  • When it’s time to replace your appliance, shop for energy-efficient products.

6. Seal Up Air Leaks

Why? Doors, windows and other openings in your home are all potential sources of heat loss—even when closed. According to the DOE, nearly one third of a home’s heat is lost through windows. Sealing air leaks can help your home retain heat, thus keeping everyone comfortable and preventing your heater from working overtime. 

Effort required: Medium

Steps to take:

  • Do a visual air leak inspection to find apparent signs of leaks. This can include checking for gaps or cracks in existing caulking and weatherstripping or light shining through door and window frames.
  • Schedule a professional energy assessor or weatherization technician to do a full inspection for air leaks around the house if you suspect leaks in multiple areas of your home.
  • Weatherstrip doors and windows with noticeable drafts and replace old weatherstripping as needed.
  • Research DIY window installation kits to use on your window. These kits can help insulate your windows while still letting in the sunshine.
  • Check the attic and basement for air leaks. You can use foam or caulk for small heat leaks, but you may need to call a professional to install or replace insulation for larger leaks.
  • Investigate other common spots for air leaks, such as light fixtures, outlets, air conditioning units, utility cupboards and other areas with visible cracks or gaps.
  • Insulate pipes to lessen heat loss, help your water heat up faster and prevent burst pipes.
  • Keep fireplace dampers closed when you’re not using them to avoid inviting in cold air. If you don’t plan to use your chimney this winter, seal the chimney flue.
  • Lay down rugs on bare floors to help insulate them.
  • Schedule a professional inspection if you notice cold air coming through your exhaust fans.

7. Inspect Home Heating Systems

Why? The EIA found that space and water heating were among the four largest categories for residential energy consumption in 2022. Layering up and improving insulation can help keep you warm. But you’ll likely still need to use your HVAC system, chimney, water heater and small space heaters to stay warm—especially in areas that need to prepare for a blizzard and extreme cold temperatures. Regular maintenance on your home’s heating systems can help ensure they operate properly and efficiently.

Effort required: Medium to high

Steps to take:

  • Replace furnace and heat pump filters if you haven’t already in the past three months. This will keep them running efficiently and ensure they’re clean from pollutants like dust and pet dander.
  • Ensure furniture and curtains are not blocking vents and obstructing airflow.
  • Schedule a tune-up for your HVAC system if you haven’t had one this year or have issues. Common signs can include loud banging or clanking noises, a strong smell or airflow that feels different than normal.
  • Arrange for a chimney cleaning if you haven’t already scheduled one this year or if you’ve noticed significant build-up.
  • Flush your hot water heater if you haven’t already this year to minimize sediment buildup and help it run more efficiently.
  • Consider lowering your water heater temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit if it’s suitable for your household. Water heaters maintain a set temperature all day and continuously cycle on and off. Lowering the temperature can help save on heating bills.
  • Investigate if your water heater is a good candidate for insulation. If your water heater’s R-value is at least 24 (found on its label) or it feels hot when you touch it, it may benefit from insulation. Check with your utility company and local codes first to see if this is permitted and if your utility company can help with installation.

8. Do a Home Energy Assessment

Why? A home energy assessment involves inspecting each room of your house to identify your home’s energy usage and ways to help your home run more efficiently. This is a great step to take if you want to identify the solutions that will impact your home the most. You can do a simple DIY home energy assessment to find issues that are easy to spot, or you can schedule a professional home energy assessment with an auditor who can thoroughly evaluate your home. Having an audit completed by a certified auditor is required for those who want to take advantage of tax credit. An auditor also can help you identify solutions for more complex issues, like if you need to replace the insulation throughout your home.

Effort required: High

Steps to take:

  • Schedule the inspection as early in the season as possible—try adding it to your fall maintenance checklist-to avoid potential construction or renovation during the winter.
  • If you’re scheduling a professional audit, check your auditor’s credentials. You can find qualified auditors through the Residential Energy Service Network, your energy company or the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score Program.
  • Make a list of potential issues in your home that either you or your auditor can keep top of mind during the assessment. This can include rooms with drastically different temperatures or drafty windows and doors.
  • Get a copy of your energy bills to help identify relevant information for the audit. This can include peak usage time in your home, changes in usage between bills and potential causes for spikes or dips (like if you’re housing relatives during the holidays or recently replaced old appliances).
  • Download an electricity app to monitor your household’s energy consumption.

Courtney Klosterman