The holidays loom with turkey legs, pilgrims, holly, and ho ho hos, but the spread on the table and the number of presents under the tree might be severely limited this year. Why? Because heating oil prices are expected to be at an all time high in the winter of 2005-2006, leading to a potential 30% increase in energy bills this winter. Other than denying little Tommy his coveted bicycle or action figure, or scarfing tofurkey (it’s just $50 for a Tofurky feast that feeds four! ) instead of a real bird, what might you do to save money in the coming months? We’ve got a bevy of tips for knocking down your heating bill by enough dollars to satisfy the kids—big and little—this winter season.
1. Check out your service company
While it will be difficult if not impossible to change the company that services your apartment complex, you may be able to enroll in a payment-sharing plan that spreads out your energy costs over the entire year, rather than hitting you with high heating costs in the winter only. You might balk at the concept of paying for heat in August, but distributing your debt may not be a bad idea, particularly since winter can hit the pocketbook hard in other ways, as with the already-noted obligations to fill stockings and bake cookies, or perhaps winterize your car. Contact your landlord and service company to find out more. Your options will vary depending on whether you pay your energy bill directly or through your landlord, so keep that in mind, and ask your landlord whether spreading out heating costs over a year’s time is a possibility. Changing from a heating oil-based heating system to an electric one will also be expensive, but the savings in the long run might make the switch worthwhile. It certainly merits at least some investigation.
2. Check your apartment complex—or make your landlord do it.
Make sure that your landlord arranges for the heating system in your apartment complex to be inspected at least yearly. The landlord might grumble at first, but the expense and hassle should pay off in the end in reduced heating bills. Over time, various inefficiencies in heating systems—particularly gas heating systems—can develop and drastically reduce efficiency. When a system is charged with the task of heating far more space than the average home, or is being abused by individuals with an “I’m just renting” attitude, it can wear out much faster than it otherwise would. It’s to the benefit of your landlord and yourself to investigate the situation and fix any inefficiencies present in the heating system itself.
If possible, see if you can get a programmable thermostat installed in your apartment. This will rev up the heater at the time you set it, so your apartment won’t be ice cold when you step in the door after work. This saves you from making the tough choice of turning off the heat all day to come back to an unbearably frigid apartment, or living a costly but cozy lifestyle where the heater’s on all day long. If you have a heat pump, however, leave it on at a constant setting—frequent fluctuations will be more costly than leaving the pump on low. Many sources recommend setting the thermostat no higher than 68 degrees, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that “ every degree you lower the heat can save as much as 3 percent on your heating bills.” Remaining conscious of the way your heating system works best will help increase efficiency and decrease heating costs.
3. Check your apartment
If the heating system itself is running smoothly, you can still make many changes to increase your apartment’s efficiency in retaining heat. Make it a lean, mean, heat-trapping machine. Take time to carefully examine all connections with the outside world—doors, windows, vents, and so on. Evaluate and repair weather-stripping; consider applying special heat-conserving films to your windows. Blinds and curtains can also help keep the cold out and the warm in, just like clothing for windows. (They don’t call ‘em window dressings for nothing.) You might even get drapes that are insulated specifically to help with heat conservation issues. If you don’t feel handy enough to install weather stripping or other physical improvements, definitely ask your landlord about doing so—it’s in his or her best interest to keep the apartments as energy efficient as possible. If repairs have been made or are forthcoming, rolled-up towel placed near the bottom of the door can function as a good insulator to keep cold out and heat in.
And don’t just insulate the outer reaches of your home. Closing off little-used rooms or closets is a worthwhile step to take. If you never use a particular closet, there’s no reason for it to be heated to match the rest of your house. Likewise, there’s not much justification for keeping the laundry room sauna-steamy, or for making sure the pantry is superheated. Close the doors to any infrequently used rooms and seal them off with a (beach) towel or perhaps some appropriately folded articles of summer clothing—a functional and decorative use for those colorful tank tops you won’t be wearing in the winter. Fireplaces, if you have one, are good for heating—but they’re also good for letting heat escape. When not using your fireplace, you should install a fireplace draft stopper to prevent heat from escaping through the fireplace (heat rises and all that). If you’re into kitsch, or just into pretending you’re cool by laughing at kitsch, you could also check out some of the many fascinating weather-stoppers available from various merchants online and elsewhere: dachshund , santa, or generic colored to match your décor.
4. Check yo’self
You’d think this would be a given, but it’s a news flash for some people: you should wear warmer clothes in the winter. It will be far more expensive to make your apartment a comfortable place to wear shorts and tank tops than to make it a comfortable place to wear jeans and a sweater (and thick fuzzy socks). If you want a beach environment, try Tahiti. Some people are (understandably) more susceptible to cold than others, but try to reach a reasonable compromise if you have various individuals with drastically different climate preferences in your apartment. Unless your roomie Betty Beachcomber is willing to pay half the heating bill because she can’t stand for the apartment temperature to dip below 75 degrees, insist on a more reasonable heating scheme. If Betty likes it so balmy, maybe she should move to the Bahamas. Besides, it’s fun, if illogical, to justify buying yourself a new cashmere sweater by theorizing that it will help you save on heating bills—even if the sweater itself costs a winter’s worth of heat. Come to think of it, maybe you should ask your parents—or your sweetie—to buy you that sweater for Christmas. If they can’t swing it, look into getting some of these adorably mismatched gloves to keep you warm around the apartment.
And in all seriousness, if you live in a cold climate that requires steep heating bills, and you’re a snow-hating beach bunny, consider moving, if your career and lifestyle will allow it. There’s no reason to suffer through desperately cold New England winters if you’d rather be soaking up the sun in Florida. It’s all a matter of personal preference and priorities. That brings us to our next article—how best to break your lease.