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Conserve your heat on a budget: Save money, slow climate change

Hand adjusting a digital thermostat

In recent years, Minnesota has successfully reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in some sectors, such as electricity generation and transportation, but emissions from homes and commercial buildings have actually been increasing. GHG emissions from Minnesota’s residential buildings — mostly from burning natural gas and oil for heating — have risen 32% since 2005.

That’s partly why Minnesota’s new Climate Action Framework includes goals for making buildings more efficient, cheaper to operate, and less polluting. The plan calls for incentivizing energy efficiency, updating building codes, training building professionals on energy-efficient technologies, and more. But the framework also notes that the upgrades needed to make homes more efficient and reduce the amount of fuel burned for heat are often expensive and a disproportionate burden to people with lower incomes. Additionally, Minnesotans of color are more likely to rent their homes due to decades of housing segregation, redlining, and other harmful policies, which limits their access to energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities.

For those who can’t afford switching to electric heat or other expensive upgrades, we offer some low-cost or no-cost strategies to help reduce your heating costs and the GHG emissions generated by your furnace and other appliances. Implementing these strategies can benefit your pocketbook while helping slow the pace of climate change.

Turn it down —Turn your thermostat down at night or when you leave the house. Keep it lower when you’re home and stay warm with a sweater and some thick socks. You can save about 1% for each degree the thermostat is lowered for an eight-hour period. For example, if heating your home costs $1,000 per year, lowering the thermostat from 72 to 65 at night could save you $70.

Zone out — Heat only the rooms or zones in your house that are being used. Close off heat in rooms that are not occupied.

Sunny side up — In winter, open drapes or shades in the morning on south-facing windows to get some passive heating from the sun. Close them again at night to prevent heat loss through your windows.

Get snug with rugs — Cover bare floors with rugs to help retain heat.

Plug the leaks — Air leaks are a common way to lose heat. Install insulating gaskets behind outlet covers and switch plates. Put caulking or weather-stripping around windows and doors. Helpful videos on do-it-yourself weatherizing are just an internet search away.

Bundle up — Install an insulated blanket on your hot water heater. At $20 - $30, the blankets can pay for themselves in the first year of energy savings. You can also install insulation on the hot water pipe leaving the water heater. It keeps the water inside 2 to 4 degrees F hotter, so you can lower the setting on the water heater and not wait as long for hot water at the tap.

Call an expert — Have a certified technician give your furnace a periodic tune-up to ensure it’s running efficiently. If your furnace has a filter, check it at least once a month and clean or replace it as needed.

Get some help

The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Weatherization Assistance Program provides free home energy upgrades to income-eligible homeowners and renters to help save energy, lower your bills, and make sure your home is a healthy and safe place to live. If your household qualifies, an energy auditor may evaluate your home to determine if weatherization is needed. The auditor will look for opportunities to make your home more energy efficient by sealing air leaks, adding insulation, and checking if the furnace is working properly. Learn more:

Check with your energy utility about home energy audits. They may be able to suggest low-cost energy-saving strategies that will also save you money over time.

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