With our four distinct seasons come hot and humid summers, frigid winters, and everything in between. It's perhaps not surprising that heating and cooling are the largest energy users in our homes. By making smart choices and implementing simple strategies, you can save energy and control your heating and cooling costs.
The Power of the Thermostat
Adjusting your thermostat is one of the easiest ways to manage heating and cooling costs. Set the thermostat for one temperature when you're home and another when you're away or sleeping. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the less energy you'll use.
Recommended Thermostat Settings
Winter / Summer
When you're home: 68°F / 78°F
When you're NOT home: 55°F / 85°F
When you're sleeping: 55°F* / 78°F
Or as low as health permits. Check the owner's manual if turning down the temperature for more than 24 hours.
While you can manually adjust your thermostat to achieve energy savings, it's not always convenient and you may forget. Consider installing a programmable or smart thermostat. A programmable unit adjusts heating and cooling automatically according to a schedule that you select. A smart thermostat uses artificial intelligence to learn your behaviors and uses that information to control the temperature of your home. Eligible MGE customers can take advantage of a $50 cash-back incentive from Wisconsin's Focus on Energy® program for purchasing a qualified ENERGY STAR® smart thermostat. Get more details at focusonenergy.com/smart .
Whether your home is old or new, you easily can boost the energy efficiency of your windows. It's a worthwhile step because heat loss and heat gain through windows is responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the energy used for residential heating and cooling. That's air you paid to heat or cool going right out the window. Here's what you can do.
• Be smart with window coverings. During the cooling season, sun that shines on your windows heats your home. Close window coverings to reduce heat gain. During the heating season, open window coverings to take advantage of natural light and heat from the sun.
• Consider applying plastic film to the inside of your window frames during winter. This will reduce drafts and make your home feel warmer. It also reduces condensation buildup.
• Lock up. When heating or cooling your home, don't just shut your windows, lock them as well. This step can be overlooked but is very important. The locking mechanism activates a seal that helps keep the air you heated or cooled inside your home.
If you want to do more, consider these strategies to cut heating and cooling costs.
• Use a heating pad or electric blanket at 100 watts instead of a space heater at 1,500 watts. You will save energy by heating yourself instead of the entire room. The same is true for cooling in summer. Ceiling fans can efficiently cool people rather than the whole house.
• Close high air vent returns and open lower returns in winter. This allows the furnace to pull in cooler air (cooler air is denser and sits lower to the ground). Do the reverse in summer—close bottom returns and keep higher returns open. The furnace then pulls the hotter air back down to the furnace to be cooled.
• Check the furnace filter monthly during the heating season. Change or clean the filter when it's dirty. Clogged filters make your furnace work harder, which uses more energy and costs more money.
• Turn your furnace fan to “auto” rather than “on.” In auto mode, the fan runs when your furnace calls for heat. If you leave it switched on, it will run continuously, which isn't necessary and, depending on your type of furnace, could cost about $25 a month.
• Have a professional inspect and tune up your heating and cooling system every other year for optimal efficiency.
• Replace old heating and cooling equipment. Today's high-efficiency HVAC systems are greater than 95 percent efficient. And they are safer than older models, which can be around 70 to 85 percent efficient.
• Consider a home energy assessment from Focus on Energy. You'll learn exactly where your home is wasting energy and what improvements you can make to boost comfort and cut energy costs. Learn more at focusonenergy.com .
Hot water is a daily essential for everything from taking showers to washing dishes. Water heating also is responsible for a significant portion of a home's energy use.
Some simple ways to cut water-heating costs include keeping the water heater temperature set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, using cold water to wash clothes, and running the washer and dishwasher only when you have a full load. Install a low-flow showerhead to reduce the amount of water wasted when you shower. Focus on Energy offers free energy-saving product packs that include low-flow showerheads. Order yours at focusonenergy.com/free .
If you go on vacation, switch your water heater to vacation mode so it's not heating water when you're not there to use it.
And, if it's time to purchase a new water heater, keep these tips in mind:
• ENERGY STAR models are a smart choice for energy savings, performance, and reliability.
• It's more expensive to heat water with electricity than with gas.
• Other technologies are available, including tankless water heaters, solar water heaters, and air-source heat pump water heaters. Each can offer benefits based on your home and use patterns.
Ask the Experts
From new technologies to seasonal strategies, there's a lot to understand about controlling heating and cooling in your home. MGE is available to provide tips and answer your questions about saving energy and money.
Call the MGE Home Energy Line. Energy experts are available 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 608.252.7117 or 800.245.1125, or email AskExperts@mge.com .
Photographs provided by MGE.