With most households trying to keep costs low and make wise financial decisions amidst a struggling economy, it makes no sense to waste hard-earned dollars on unnecessarily high energy bills.
According to the Energy Trust of Oregon, some 60 percent of energy used to heat and cool homes is lost to leaky ducts, inefficient equipment, poor insulation and air leaks.
Outside the home, saving energy and keeping warm is a little tougher, but not impossible.
To cut down on water heating costs with hot tubs and pools, reduce the amount of time that filters are set to turn on. In addition, opt for lower temperatures and be sure existing covers are in good repair.
For four legged friends, offer a heat lamp for a touch of comfort, but plug into a timer to reduce unnecessary costs. Cut costs altogether, and invest in doggy jackets for Fido's backyard time. For dog and cat doors, add an extra plastic flap to reduce drafts coming inside.
For patios, consider retractable awnings that allow access to sunlight during cold days or use transparent materials to let light filter in naturally.
For more tips from the Energy Trust of Oregon, visit online, http://www.energytrust.org/solutions/for_homes.php
"Nobody wants to pay more for energy than they have to. Things are getting more expensive and the economy is down so utility bills are not where you want to be spending extra money," says Kendall Youngblood, residential sector manager for the Energy Trust of Oregon.
"There are a number of things you can do that are either free or low cost and come with an environmental benefit — so it's kind of a win-win."
From spending an afternoon sealing air leaks to shopping for thermal drapes, consider one or more of five popular tips to add comfort and reduce energy costs this winter.
1. Find air leaks throughout the home. Check for small holes and cracks around plumbing pipes, exhaust fans, windows, dryer vents, sink and bathtub drains, fireplaces and countertops.
While an opening may not seem very large, keep in mind long narrow openings are the same, if measured, as a larger hole.
2. Keep heating systems in good running order, says Roy Probst of Medford's Valley Heating and Sheet Metal, to ensure peak performance and reasonable heating bills.
"It's a lot like changing the oil in your car. It's very important, but basically the system is out of sight, out of mind until it breaks," he says. "It's always cheaper to maintain than to replace."
On a homeowner level, Allied Heating and Air Conditioning service manager Adam Berg says to change filters monthly and install a programmable thermostat to regulate temperatures, which should be kept around 68 degrees during the daytime.
3. Drapes? While heavy drapes too often elicit memories of Grandma's floral velvet curtains, modern drape design and special fabrics offer energy savings without compromising décor.
With half a home's heat loss escaping through doors and windows, Western Oregon Window Fashions co-owner Eleanor Brady urges homeowners to do more than "just blinds."
"Many people believe that their triple pane windows are enough to solve their problems and that they do not need further protection to keep the cold out," says Brady. "But all you need to do is put your hand up against the glass in the winter and you can feel how much cold is transferring through."
4. Space heaters and pellet stoves might be a good idea. In larger homes where just a few rooms require heating, consider space heaters and pellet stoves to warm small areas instead of running a whole-house system.
Though spurned in recent years for safety concerns and lack of energy efficient models, new space heater models come with built-in safety features and better efficiency. Pellet stoves, while pricey, burn clean and offer reliable heat in a power outage.
5. Winter-friendly bedding is a free way to keep warm. During winter, bump the thermostat down and snuggle into some new bedclothes made of luxurious, temperature regulating silk, bamboo rayon and organic cotton, says Sharon Feil-Filipowicz, owner of Ashland's Maizey's Bath, Body and Home store.
While some customers insist on old school favorites like wool, down and flannel, mild winters in the Rogue Valley make heavier fabrics unnecessary.
"In our climate, we get cold but we don't get that cold, so we have the silk comforters we offer as well as down comforters. With all these natural fibers, you are your own temperature control," says Feil-Filipowicz.
"If you're cold, they keep you warm. If you're warm, they keep you cool. All the natural fibers feel wonderful year round."