“Tranquil weather mixed with shots of cold and wintry precipitation.” That’s the Texas winter forecast from Farmer’s Almanac. With a prediction like this, you may run to your thermostat to turn it up.
However, utility bills account for a large part of a household budget, mainly if you use electricity to heat your home. If you are not enrolled in a payment plan with a utility provider, your bills might spike during the coldest months. Luckily, there are many ways Texans can save money in the winter.
Use the Sun to Your Advantage
You can take advantage of the Texas sun to reduce your energy cost. Keep cold air out by making sure windows and doors are closed tightly. For low-efficiency windows, consider using plastic wrap to seal out drafts. For windows that get direct sunlight, open blinds, or drapes during the day.
Adjust Your Thermostat
Turning your thermostat down, even a degree or two, can make a big difference in energy costs. Consider setting the temperature 55 F when you’re gone for more than four hours and use a programmable thermostat to regulate when the heat goes back on. Turning your thermostat down seven to 10 degrees for eight hours in winter can result in significant energy savings.
Use a Space Heater
If there are unused rooms in your house, consider closing them off, turning down the thermostat, and putting a space heater in the room you use the most. Expect to spend between $30–50 on a low-end, low-watt space heater and $100 and up for a larger, higher wattage model.
Still, space heaters can save money because you are heating less space. Make sure to buy the right size heater for the room you want to heat. To be comfortable, estimate about 10 watts per square foot. A standard space heater provides approximately 5,100 BTUs, or 1,500, and can adequately heat a room with 144 square feet.
If you live in an area that gets below freezing at night, don’t turn the heat down too low. Pipes could freeze. Be careful about the space heater you choose. It’s best to opt for one that is safety-certified. Monitor the unit to ensure that the cord, wall outlet, or plug do not heat up. Be sure to keep the heater on a flat surface at least 3-feet from anything flammable (curtains, beds, sofas), and don’t leave it running when you are not home.
Repair any Leaks
Leaks can be an invisible source of higher energy costs. Most homes have some draft under outside doors. Less obvious sources are windows, power outlets, fireplaces, pipes, recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Use caulk or weather stripping around windows and doors.
Enroll in an Affordable Energy Plan
A great way to save on energy is to compare energy rates from the providers in your area. You may be surprised at the differences. When considering rates, there are several components to take into account:
- Plan type
- Rate structure
- Payment option
Plans can be fixed, variable, or indexed. A fixed plan means you pay the same rate, no matter the season. This is good for consumers who want to plan on a set fee every month. With variable plans, consumers are charged current market value, which can change throughout a heating season.
Indexed plans use a commodity index to calculate rates. Like a variable plan, these rates can fluctuate. Some utility providers use a stable rate based on the closing price of the index on a specific date, and that rate will not vary for the length of your contract. Others may change your rate every time the index changes. Be sure to check the formula a provider uses.
Rate structure is how your utility company calculates what you pay. For example, a flat rate means you pay the same price no matter how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) you use. With a tiered rate, you might pay $75 up to 1000 kWh and then another $75 for the next 1000 kWh, even if you only use one extra. Bill credits allow you to earn credits toward future bills if your consumption falls within or below a range determined by your provider.
Some energy providers let you pay for electricity in advance. This might be a good idea if you’re on a tight budget or know you will not be using much electricity. However, if you go over the amount you’ve paid for, your power will go out.
The contract length is another factor you should consider when comparing energy prices. Because plans are available with different term lengths, you may be able to get a bargain or face early termination fees if you want to switch providers.
Choosing a residential energy plan for Texas homeowners that utilizes renewable energy sources might sense financially. A 2018 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency found that using renewable energy is becoming increasingly cost-effective than fossil fuels, which means reduced rates for consumers.
Being comfortable during the winter doesn’t have to mean high bills, especially if you consider using a provider who generates energy using renewable resources. You will notice the savings. You will also be doing the environment a favor.