At Home: Watts Up for the Holidays

Many folks have their own energy crisis each winter, as holiday festivities and lower temperatures mean climbing utility bills. Decking the halls and keeping cozy on a long winter’s night is an expensive endeavor, and skyrocketing fuel costs have led to another price hike for energy customers across the Piedmont. Combined with higher unemployment rates, increasing gas and food prices, and scores of other expenses imposed by the slumping economy, adjustments to your home and lifestyle are no longer a matter of if but when.

Before you set aside your beloved twinkling lights or succumb to the nose-nipping of Jack Frost in your own home this winter, consider a few simple changes to help you cut down on energy use during the wintry months.

1. Check it twice
Take some time this week to check the condition of the seals around your doors and windows. Sealing and weather-stripping help you avoid drafts and ensure you’re not wasting energy on heat that escapes outdoors.

If you have an attic, crawlspace or unfinished basement, make sure the insulation is sufficient. The Energy Star program, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, estimates the knowledgeable homeowner or skilled contractor saves about 20 percent on heating costs. The Web site (www.energrystar.gov) offers simple do-it-yourself guides for adding insulation and finding and sealing hidden household leaks. The site also will help you find contractors in the Charlotte area who can do it for you.

2. Put your cable-knits and comforters to good use
If you’ve ever found yourself throwing off the down comforter at night or wearing a tank top around your house in January, you’re flushing money down the toilet. Did you know that lowering your thermostat by 10 degrees at night can reduce your heating bill by 10 to 20 percent? If you lower it slightly during the daytime hours when you’re home and even more when you’re away you’ll see an even lower bill. It may mean dressing for the occasion a bit more by wearing those sweaters, sweats, or flannel PJs—but why not put them to good use?

If you own a larger home, you may benefit from adding space heaters to warm just the occupied rooms, enabling you to keep the rest of your home at cooler, more economical temperatures.

3. Hosting without roasting
Delicious meals are central to any holiday get-together. This means extra lights flipped on and the stove, oven and dishwasher all running overtime. Even your refrigerator, which gets opened and shut more frequently, is getting more use. Compensate for these expenditures by turning down your thermostat before guests arrive. They’ll thank you for it, since extra bodies in the house mean extra warmth.

4. Forego the Yule Log
If you have a traditional fireplace, think twice before building that crackling fire. Although it might add to the cozy holiday feel, its effects are just the opposite. To fuel the blaze, a fireplace sucks heated air out of your home and exhausts it through the chimney. Your furnace will be kicking into high gear trying to replace the heat your house is losing. If you must have a fire, consider installing glass doors and always ensure you close your damper when your fireplace is not in use.

5. Twinkle, twinkle little LEDs
Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be using up to 10 watts per bulb? Ouch! Even traditional icicle lights suck more energy than you might realize. This year as you haul out the holly, haul away your old lights and replace them with LED lights. LEDs use 90 percent less electricity than regular holiday lights, saving you money and reducing your impact on the environment. They’re also safer, more durable, and they come in almost every style—including the icicle variety.

To keep energy use even lower, turn your holiday lights on for no more than six hours a day. Purchasing a timer to turn lights on and off automatically will help you to avoid overuse and the burden of having to remember to turn your lights on and off every evening.

6. Tell your kids about it
We don’t need a psychologist to tell us we mimic our parents, even as parents. Take your kids shopping for new holiday lights this year and explain why your family is making the change. Help them pick out cozy clothes for lounging in and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa together. Have them help you look for drafts around doors and windows—kids love to go on hunts. Most important, explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. That’s sound advice for any behavior you want to reinforce, and it will help your kids see their energy use in a brand new way.