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    Get Big Savings on Your Heating Bill With These Simple Lifestyle Changes

    7 tips that can help you save money and stay warm and safe this winter

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    detail of two pairs of feet wearing wool socks in front of fireplace place with stacked wood in front and next to it Photo: Getty Images

    With heating costs threatening to hit new highs this winter, these small changes to your home and your habits can help you stay toasty—and on budget—in the months ahead. You don’t have to try them all, but each will pare bills or improve comfort.

    Lower Your Thermostats

    The Energy Department recommends turning thermostats down 7° F to 10° F when you’re not at home and at bedtime to save up to 10 percent ($90) per year on an average heating bill. And consider a smart thermostat. “A smart thermostat can automatically adjust to your habits and changing weather via sensors,” says Rebecca Foster, CEO of VEIC, which administers energy efficiency programs, “so it does the work of optimizing performance for you.” These typically cost $100 to $300 but can save you another 8 percent on heating and cooling bills per year. As for your water heater, lowering it from 140° to 120° F and cutting 8-minute showers in half could save $168 a year.

    CR’s Top-Rated Smart Thermostats
    These top-rated thermostats let you control your home’s heat remotely and can learn your preferences as well as whether you’re home or away and set the temperature accordingly.

    Rethink Fireplace Use

    “I love a crackling fireplace,” says Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute Inc., a nonprofit credentialing and standard-setting organization for the industry. But unless it’s properly maintained and used, a fireplace can send heating dollars up the chimney. (And because wood smoke can pose health risks, you may want to use fireplaces only occasionally.)

    Have your chimney inspected and cleaned yearly, and use a fireplace screen to contain sparks. Close the damper between uses, and consider a chimney liner as well as tempered glass doors and a fireplace heat exchanger, which warms the air and sends it back into the room. Another idea: Apply sealant and weather stripping around the chimney to reduce air leakage by 14 percent or more. If you’re not firing up your fireplace at all, a fireplace plug (about $60) may be wise.

    Dress Windows Well

    Insulated cellular shades and thermal curtains can cut the amount of heat you lose through windows by 40 percent or more. Hang curtains close to the panes and let them drop to the floor or windowsill to further block drafts. Keep shades up and curtains open during the day to capture heat from the sun.

    Flip Ceiling Fans

    Reverse the rotation of your ceiling fan so that it turns clockwise. This helps to push any warm air that has risen to the ceiling down toward you.

    Capture Cooking Heat

    Done making dinner? Turn off the oven but leave its door open, says Christine Ciavardini of MD Energy Advisors, and let the residual heat warm up your home. You’ve paid for it. (While leaving the door open with the oven off is not harmful, CR strongly advises you to never use your oven for heat by leaving it on with the door open. Read "The Dangers of Using Your Gas Range or Oven for Heat" for more details.)

    Cozy Up Your Bed

    Flannel sheets have fluffy, raised fibers that become heat-trapping pockets. Top them with a wool, fleece, down, or down-alternative blanket, and run a hot-water bottle or soapstone bed warmer ($47.50 to $57.50 from the Vermont Soapstone Co.) between the sheets before climbing in.

    Layer Up

    Instead of turning up the thermostat when you feel a chill, dress in layers you can put on and take off as needed. Start with a close-fitting top and bottom of performance material (think workout wear or long underwear), which helps lock in body heat, add fleece-lined slipper socks, and top with a wool sweater or fleece-lined sweatshirt.

    More on Winter

    Before stepping outside, layer up in wool or silk. (Both hold in warmth better than, say, cotton.) Cover extremities, which get chilled fastest. That means putting on a hat and gloves, along with warm boots.

    Put ice melt outside your doorways and on walkways before a storm hits. Do it again once snow is falling, but stay inside if it’s sleeting.

    In snowy, icy zones, it’s wise to have boots with “Arctic Grip” (tiny, spiky fibers) or “Green Diamond” (akin to sandpaper) soles. Or try slip-on ice cleats or microspikes, which provide traction. Four offered excellent grip on ice in CR’s review of the best ice cleats: Kahtoolas, Sportneers, Stabils, and Yatta. Yaktrax didn’t perform as well.

    When you’re out walking, waddle in order to prevent slipping. Take short steps or shuffle with your feet flat and slightly pointed out and wider apart than usual. Bend slightly forward at your waist.

    On the go, always have a charged phone with you in case you fall and need to call for help.

    Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2022 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


    Headshot of CRO freelancer Janet Siroto

    Janet Siroto

    Janet Siroto is a writer and content strategist specializing in lifestyle and wellness topics. She's held senior editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan, and contributes to Real Simple, Next Avenue, and other titles. She is also a trend tracker whose work has been presented at South by Southwest, the Wall Street Journal's The Future of Everything, Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and other summits.