Winter always brings extra costs, with all the big family meals, gifts for the kids, and family travel.
On gifts alone, Gallup estimates a modest rise in consumer spending in 2012 of between 3.5% and 3.7% from last holiday season, with those surveyed saying they’d spend an average of $770.
With all the holiday fun ahead of you, it can be important to plan ahead for some of the most unpredictable winter costs, like your utilities and energy use.
Much of the country has already had a bitter taste of early winter following Hurricane Sandy and the winter storm that followed. It may be tough to prepare your home for big storms, but there are plenty of ways that you can lower your winter energy costs and keep your home feeling warm and inviting throughout the season. Melissa Morris with Systrum Energy offers these tips.
Use a Programmable Thermostat
Running your air conditioning at the same level throughout the day and night is very inefficient and wastes a lot of money heating an empty house. A programmable thermostat allows you to create a heating routine that will make a comfortable home when people are there, but cut down your costs when the house is empty during the day.
Home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot ran Black Friday deals on the energy-saving Nest smart thermostat, the brainchild of the man behind the iPod.
Obviously, we’d prefer to always be comfortable without having to add layers of clothes, but if you can lower your thermostat and wear socks and a sweater to warm up, you can almost watch the savings stack up. Lowering your A/C just one degree can save about three percent, and it gives you a great reason to cuddle up on the couch.
Use Thermal Window Shades
Thermal window shades like blackout curtains can create significant energy savings. Nearly 33 percent of heating and cooling energy loss occurs through windows, so they should be one of your priorities if you’re looking to cut down your energy bills. Thermal curtains can retain as much as 99 percent of heat during the winter around windows and also block out a lot of neighborhood noise. High-end blackout curtains may cost a lot, but you can get curtains at places like Walmart for less than $20, and they will last for years.
If part of your winter fun includes a warm dip in your hot tub on the porch, there are plenty of ways to make it more energy efficient. Obviously, most of the heat in the tub will escape from the top, so a quality spa cover is an important, but easy, way to save money. Don’t skimp on your cover and make sure that you always strap it down tightly when it is not in use. Creating a windbreak around your hot tub area will give you more privacy and also keep winter winds from sapping heat from your hot tub.
Change Your Energy Supplier
It’s never fun trying to negotiate with your utility company, especially during the holidays, but there are a few ways that you can restructure your utilities to lower your bills. Using a third-party energy supplier can knock off up to 20 percent on electricity and natural gas bills. Third-party suppliers work with your utility company to structure a long-term discount for your energy needs, which can create significant savings, especially during the winter.
Natural Gas and Heating Oil
With recent discoveries and abundant supply, natural gas prices are expected to remain low throughout this winter. Heating costs always bring a significant bump to energy bills, but natural gas should provide your home or business with large savings for years to come, especially if you can lock in a natural gas price at today’s low rates. The price of heating oil continues to fluctuate, but if you don’t want to switch over to natural gas, heating oil will probably still be less than $4 per gallon throughout the winter.