How to Use Less Heating Oil and Save Money This Winter

“I love spending money on heating oil” …said no one ever.

Sick of spending your entire winter paying for heating oil? Here’s how to use less oil—and money— this winter.

Hot air rises...

You’ve probably heard it said that “hot air rises” and assumed it just kind of does it on its own—like a helium balloon. But, guess what? That’s not really true. Mind=blown.

So, if hot air doesn’t rise by itself, then what does it do? After all, it clearly moves.

The reality is that it rises because it’s getting pushed out by colder air that takes its place.

Come again?

Ok, let’s go back to chemistry class, where we learn that molecules of cold and warm air behave differently. Molecules in cold air are densely packed together (probably trying to keep each other warm). On the other end of the thermometer, warm air molecules have more space between them. Probably because they are sweaty and smell bad (kidding!)

And because of those different behaviors, cold air is denser and therefore heavier than warm air.

Since hot air molecules are much more active and lighter than cold air molecules, whenever the two meet, the cold (heavier) air immediately sinks and forces the lighter, warmer air up and out. The greater the difference in temperature is, the more forceful this exchange becomes.

You experience the same thing when you first open a parked car’s door on a summer day and are immediately hit with a wave of hot air from inside the car. What’s really going on is that the cold(er) outside air is actually rushing in to the car and pushing all the hot air out.

At this point, you’re probably asking: “What does hot air not rising on its own have to do with me and how much heating oil I use?”

Well, what it means is that when you know that heat doesn’t just rise up and fly out of your house on its own, you have a much better shot at being able to minimize just how much heat you lose day after day, night after night, for the entire heating season.

3 steps homeowners can take to keep more heat where it belongs—inside your home

Now that you understand how heat moves – and what causes it to move – your job is to make sure that as much of the heat you are paying for actually stays in your house.

Here are three steps you can take that will help you use less heating oil and save more money.

1. Address cracks, gaps, and insulation to use less heating oil
Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to increase the comfort of an upstairs bedroom is by sealing cracks and gaps and adding insulation to your basement.

Cold air can enter your home through hundreds of tiny (and not so tiny) gaps along its foundation and exterior walls. By filling those gaps and reducing the amount of cold outside air that can enter the house, you not only make the basement temperature more comfortable, you also reduce the amount of force that’s pushing warm air up and out of through the attic.

So, before you spend hundreds of dollars on space heaters (and ugly sweaters), spend $20 on a good caulking gun and some expanding spray foam such as GreatStuff and start sealing. You may be surprised at how less drafty other rooms in your house become. 

2. Use the right thermostat to save money and use less heating oil
Did you know that keeping your home’s thermostat set to the same temperature (72°F) all winter will actually cause you to lose more heat faster than leaving a window open and using a programable thermostat?

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true! That’s because the hotter it is inside – and the colder it is outside – the larger the force behind the cold air pushing the hot air out. As a result, it’s going to take a heck of a lot more energy to keep a house steady at 72°F when its 15°F outside then when its 55°F outside.

A way to combat this is to switch out your old manual thermostat for a programmable one. They’re simple to install and can be set to automatically turn on and off at specific times of the day or night.

According to the folks at Energy Star, proper use of pre-programmed settings with a smart thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs. So, you’ll get back a good portion of your investment in the technology, especially if you’re a homeowner and planning on sticking around for 5 years or more.

And, you don’t necessarily need to install the Cadillac of smart thermostats. You can find unbiased reviews on thermostats on sites like Consumer Reports, as long as you have a subscription, or check out this link as a good starting point for reviews on smart thermostats that have all the bells and whistles you could want. Plus, don’t forget to see if there are any energy rebate programs in your area for buying energy efficient products (yay for free money!)

3. Add insulation to your basement to use less heating oil.
Don’t ignore your basement. As you now know, basements are the biggest entryway for cold air to enter your home—so looking into ways to add insulation directly to the walls and ceiling will reduce the amount of incoming air. Also make sure to seal around the sill plate (the long piece of wood that sits directly on top of the foundation wall) for extra insulation.

It's all connected, man.

If you start thinking about your house as an interconnected system – where change in one part of the house has an effect that can be felt elsewhere –  it becomes easier to see how performing some very basic home maintenance improvements can add up to making your home more comfortable, using less heating oil, and saving some money this winter.

Stay cozy out there!

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