How to keep energy bills low during cold weather

CREATED Jan. 27, 2014 - UPDATED: Jan. 27, 2014

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MILWAUKEE – It was just three weeks ago when we were this cold, with wind chills dropping down to -30 to -40.  People used so much natural gas to keep warm that We Energies’ Cathy Schulze says customers broke a company record for the most usage in 24 hours. 

That usage back on January 6th-7th broke the old record by more than seven percent and they expect more high numbers during this cold snap. Schulze says, "It's possible that we could break that record that we just set, looking at the forecast.  It's hard to imagine it getting even colder than it has been but Mother Nature does not want to seem to have any mercy on us."

But Schulze says it is not too late to still save money on the rest of your winter bills.  Windows are a prime place to lose or save money.  There are several window insulator kits and even window film that can be applied directly onto the window to help save energy. 

Schulze recommends checking for drafts around windows and doors and using caulk to seal those leaks, “Ask at your home improvement store, they have a host of different tools you can use to try and cut down on some of that air seepage around doors and windows.”

But you can also let Mother Nature help heat up your home during the day by letting the sunshine in, "Take advantage of that natural sunlight, when it is streaming in through the windows, open those blinds, open the curtains, let that sunlight in to try and warm up the room naturally," Schulze remarks.  Closing the blinds and curtains at night will help keep the cold out, especially if you have energy efficient thermal curtains.

There's a reason we don't normally go to our basements during the winter.  Hot air rises, which can be a disadvantage when it comes to traditional fireplaces.  Cathy Shulze explains that traditional fireplaces are good at heating up mainly the room it is in, "What that's doing is actually drawing heat away from other parts of your home and a lot of it's going right out that chimney, so once that fire goes out, you're home can be really cold and then you're going to crank up that thermostat to really get things back to where they should be."  So chimney dampers should be closed in this extreme cold, stopping the warm air from going up your chimney like smoke.

You can use the hot air rising to your advantage however.  Instead of using a ceiling fan to keep you cool in the summer, you can flip a switch, reversing it the direction of the air movement to send the warm air, that's risen up to the ceiling, back down to where you are sitting or standing.

Programmable thermostats can save you plenty of money but if you don't have one of those, you just have to lower the temperature one degree and you could save up to three percent on your energy costs.  Shulze adds that thermostat regulation is one of the biggest things you change to see a reduction in your bill, “If you can stand to turn that thermostat down a couple of degrees, and maybe put a couple more layers on while you are inside, it can make a big difference.”

The amount of moisture in the air also can make a big difference since water holds heat better than air does.  It’s warmer at the lakefront in the winter because the water in Lake Michigan holds onto the heat from the summer and loses it faster than the air does.  A humidifier can act in the same way for your home, the more moisture in the air, the longer the heat will last, even if the thermostat is set at a lower temperature.

You can also lose a lot of energy just surrounding your water heater, there are a couple quick things you can do.  One of them is you putting pipe insulation around your hot water pipes, it costs less than four dollars and will keep the hot water from losing its heat on the way to the faucet.  WE Energies says it can save you up to twenty five dollars each year.

We Energies also suggests turning the temperature below 120 degrees on the water heater, it could save six to twelve dollars a month.

If your water heater is older than five years old, a reflective water heater blanket is recommended.  They cost about $25 but add an extra layer of insulation, acting like a winter coat for your water heater that can eventually save you more money than they cost.

There are many more tips for cutting costs on your energy bill on We Energies’ website or you can go to Energy.gov for more winter saving tips.

 WE Energies does have a Budget Billing plan that customers can sign up for to help keep the bills more consistent, “It takes your energy usage, it spreads it out over the course of the whole year so what you end up with is a fixed amount every month on your bill instead of seeing those spikes during some of these really cold winter months.”

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