Keeping our energy usage down not only saves us money, but also reduces pollution. As the winter creeps in, preparing our apartments, homes and dorms to help keep in the heat — and keep out the cold air — can be done with small efficient actions that help spark real environmental changes.
The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, but consumes 17% of the world’s energy, according to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems. There’s a direct connection between energy use and the environment. When we consume less power, we reduce the toxic fumes released, conserve the earth’s natural resources and help protect local ecosystems from destruction.
Reducing energy use is easier than you may think, and you can start this season by following some of these tips to winterize your home the green way.
Cold weather seems to suck all the moisture out of the air, especially inside the home. There are a few things we can do to help keep the indoor space humid without running up the bills.
Consider getting a couple of indoor plants that can tolerate winter light, such as philodendrons, pothos, peace lily, snake tongue or rubber trees to brighten up your shortened days. Place your plants in a bowl of gravel or stones that you fill with enough water so that it covers the stones but doesn’t seep into the pot. This will create an atmosphere of evaporation around the plants and you. Most plants need longer periods of dry soil during the winter, so don’t overwater and mist them at least once in the daytime.
You can also reduce your carbon footprint and turn off the dryer. Instead, hang your laundry on a clotheshorse or rack in the rooms where you need more humidity. This method is especially effective for towels and sheets that are usually very wet and take a lot of energy to dry.
Crockpots and slow cookers are created to stay hot for longer periods of time while using low energy. Place a small one in your room filled with tap water and just let it cook off, adding humidity to the room without any frills or plastic materials. Be sure to keep it in a safe place away from pets and children where it could become a spill hazard. Top it off with water whenever it gets too low and turn it off in the evening or when you leave the space. You can also add a few drops of essential oils to create festive scents!
Also consider a programmable thermostat and keep those numbers low. A single degree difference over time can save money on bills. Keep your heat setting lower while you sleep, and program your thermostat to increase a few degrees just before you wake. You can also close the vents, windows and doors in rooms or spaces that are infrequently used and bundle up with an additional sweater or blanket.
Before the frost arrives, check that your heater works properly. Finding out that your system is broken on a cold night can not only give you a headache but also can possibly increase the risk of frozen or damaged pipes — a costly fix. Replace the filters in your system and clean out the vents to ensure everything runs efficiently while keeping dust particles from circulating in the heated air.
If you have leftover or extra bubble wrap from recent packages, cut and tape it to the windowpanes around the house where you wouldn’t mind seeing it — the basement, the attic or any spare rooms are great places. This is a technique used in greenhouses, as it lets in sunlight but helps trap in warmth.
To keep your home toasty while also curbing energy, the most important first step is to be sure the cracks in windows and doors are plugged to prevent unwanted airflow. A rug, towel or even leftover shirts or jeans that don’t fit can be repurposed into draft-stoppers. Simply cut the material a bit longer than the length of the window or door, roll or fold a few times lengthwise to create layers and lay in front of door gaps or sills. If the fabric unravels, you can stitch it or rubber band the ends. Or, if you need weight to hold it down, fill the fabric with other fabric, dry rice or dry beans, and then stitch or glue shut the edges.
Hang thermal curtains to keep cold drafts out and energy costs down. While these curtains are often made of polyester material that creates microplastics when washed, there are some options available in less environmentally impactful wool or linen that help keep the warm air in and the cold out. Be sure to keep curtains wide open in the daytime to let in that room-warming sunshine!
Insulation also goes a long way in protecting your house from the loss of warm air. Use a warmer weather day to check all other locations — including your attic, basement or porch — for leaks, old or damaged infrastructure and possible cracks that might be letting in air and seal them.
If you’re considering a big insulation project for the roof or walls, be sure to evaluate your sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly options, including sheep’s wool, newspaper and cellulose. Unlike synthetic materials, these choices not only work great, but also lack toxins.
When water freezes, it expands, which is great for ice-skating rinks but not for some places around your home. Make sure all your gutters, downspouts and drains are free and clear of leaves and branches before the winter arrives to prevent water from getting dammed up, freezing and creating breakage. Check for loose-fitting exterior surfaces or cracking in your steps or rails and plug it up — these spaces can fill with water and freeze, not only making the breakage worse, but also creating an icy slip situation.
If you have hoses attached to your walls, be sure to remove them now and drain them. Then wrap each hose securely and store in a dry place away from outside elements — rain, snow and mice included. The same goes for your rain barrels. Make sure the spigots are removed and the barrel is empty, cleaned and covered for the cold winter temperatures. Otherwise, the water droplets left over can expand and create leaks.