Heating your home in the winter can get costly, but you're probably missing some easy ways to lower your heating bills. You can reduce your heating costs by uncovering common energy wasters inside your home.

Explore these common heating mistakes, organized into seven categories, so you can make all your improvements quickly and easily. Nearly all of the fixes are low- or no-cost, so start lowering your heating bills today!

1. Thermostats: Not-so-hot Mistakes

Your thermostat can be your best tool for lowering winter heating bills, but only if you use it wisely. Let’s look at the common ways people misuse their thermostat in winter.

Never learning how to use your thermostat

About 40 percent of people don’t know how to operate their programmable thermostat, according to research from UC-Davis, causing them to miss out on big, money-saving opportunities like the ones below.

The fix: Read the owner’s manual for your thermostat and become a master. It won’t take long and you’ll save your household a lot of money!

Can’t find the manual? Look at your thermostat to find the manufacturer and model. You can visit the manufacturer’s website or run an internet search for a digital copy of the owner’s manual. Or, you can call the manufacturer’s customer service department and request a new one to be sent to you.

Leaving your thermostat at one, constant temperature

If your keep your thermostat stuck at one temperature, you’re missing a chance to save as much as 10 percent on heating and cooling costs according to the Department of Energy. The temperature you set your thermostat to, known as a set point, should generally change throughout the day. If you never lower the set point – like when you’re away from home or asleep at night – then you’re paying to heat your home when it doesn’t even benefit you!

The fix: Lower your thermostat’s set point while you’re away from home or sleeping. A programmable thermostat will help, allowing you to program set points to your unique schedule. You can also achieve this with a manual thermostat, but you’ll need to train yourself to lower the set points (e.g., at bedtime and before leaving for work).

Setting your thermostat to tropical temperatures

We all like to be cozy during the Minnesota winter. But if you’re lounging in shorts and a t-shirt, your home thermostat is probably set too high – unless you enjoy a big heating bill?

The fix: Lower your home temperature to 68 degrees when you’re home. Maintain comfort by adding extra layers of clothing – try fabrics like fleece, flannel and wool – and don’t forget comfy slippers and blankets. If you can comfortably go a degree or two cooler than 68, your wallet will benefit even more!

Not upgrading your old thermostat

Do you have a manual thermostat? A manual thermostat typically looks like a dial, which you rotate to your desired temperature, or set point.

A manual thermostat may be fine if you have a perfect memory and don’t mind adjusting your thermostat throughout each day and night. But if you forget, you’re hurting your home’s energy efficiency and making your heating bill more expensive. For most of us, a manual thermostat is a poor fit for our busy lives.

The fix: A programmable thermostat is a great energy-saver. A programmable thermostat allows you to set temperatures according to your schedule, saving you the hassle of remembering to manually adjust your thermostat when you go to bed and leave for work.

A smart thermostat is a special type of programmable thermostat that you can control or monitor remotely with your smartphone. It’s great for busy families and people with unpredictable schedules. Imagine you’re at the airport, trying to remember if you set your thermostat to ‘vacation’ or ‘manual’ mode. With a smart thermostat, you would simply use your phone to view and adjust your home thermostat settings.

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2. Windows & Doors: Avoid Efficiency Missteps

Your home loses an estimated 33 percent of its heat through doors and windows, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But when used wisely your window accessories and a few inexpensive items will help your home become more energy efficient, so you’ll spend less on heating bills this winter.

Avoid these expensive mistakes people make with their windows and doors.

Ignoring drafty windows until you can replace them

People mistakenly believe that the only way to improve a drafty is to replace it, and that you just have to ‘live with it’ until you have the money to buy a new window. This is rarely the case.

The fix: Use a window insulation kit, or window film, to provide an insulating seal around a window leaking cold air. These can be found in department stores and home improvement stores.

Ready to replace? When you do replace your old, drafty windows, choose windows qualified by ENERGY STAR to save an average of 12 percent on energy bills.

Ignoring gaps around windows and doors

People typically ignore the small cracks and gaps around windows and doors, but they’re responsible for a large amount of home heat-loss each winter.

The fix: Seal the gaps/cracks with caulk and weatherstripping. Caulk and weatherstripping are inexpensive and pay for themselves in just one Minnesota heating season. It’s a do-it-yourself project anyone can handle. Check out Energy.Gov pages on caulking and weatherstripping to learn more.

Thinking window accessories are just for looks

Do you think window curtains, blinds, shades and drapes are just for privacy and decoration? Many homeowners miss out on lowering heating bills via window accessories, which can make a home significantly more energy efficient in the winter.

The fix: Open your shades, blinds, curtains and drapes to let in warm sunlight, but close them at night to help insulate your home. Consider installing tight-fitting window shades on windows that are especially drafty.

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3. Vents & Registers: Don’t Block Efficiency

Air vents and registers play an important and underrated role in home heating efficiency. If you aren’t using your vents and registers properly, you can put extra stress on your furnace or boiler, and decrease the efficiency of your entire heating system.

Avoid these common mistakes homeowners make with air vents and registers.

Closing or blocking vents in unused rooms

Homeowners commonly believe they can save money by blocking or closing vents/registers in spare bedrooms. Despite good intentions, closing or blocking vents in unused rooms can actually decrease your home’s air flow, raise your home heating costs and damage HVAC components!

The fix: Open vents or registers in unused rooms and remove any blockages you created. Your heating system was designed to heat your entire house. Trying to selectively heat areas of your home can damage the heating system and increase energy use.

Note: Unless a qualified HVAC efficiency expert has measured your home’s air pressure and recommends closing particular vents, you could be damaging multiple components of your heating system.

Allowing furniture or drapes to obstruct vents and registers

Vents and registers may not be the most beautiful part of a home, but obstructed air vents can hinder your entire system, reducing its performance while making your furnace work harder.

The fix: Survey your home and eliminate blockages/obstructions from your home’s vents and air returns. Move any furniture, including drapes or curtains, that are wholly or partially blocking your vents or registers.

Blocking air-return vents (furnace systems)

Air-returns vents are an important part of a furnace heating system, as they draw cooler air to the furnace so it can be heated and recirculated. Unfortunately, many homeowners block cold-air-return vents with furniture or rugs – greatly reducing the heating system’s air flow and making the heating system work harder.

The fix: Find your home’s cold-air-return vents and ensure they aren’t blocked by furniture, drapes or rugs. Air-return vents are usually located low (on walls or in the middle of floors) but their importance is high!

Bonus tip: If your air-return vents are dusty, schedule a duct-cleaning to ensure the best efficiency, performance and comfort from your furnace.

Letting registers blow warm air directly upwards

When warm air enters your room from the register is it blowing directly upwards, toward the ceiling? Unless your goal is to heat the ceiling, you want the warm air to blow across your room.

The fix: Use air-vent deflectors to redirect warm air across your room. You can buy air deflectors online or in a home-improvement store. Or you can choose to make your own DIY air deflector.

4. Water Heaters: Be Wise, Not Wasteful

The average household spends $400 – 600 heating water each year, but many families can lower water-heating bills by 20 – 50 percent with some simple DIY measures (statistics from Energy.Gov).

Don’t make these common water-heating mistakes.

Setting your water heater temperature above 120 degrees

Some water-heater manufacturers set their thermostats to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a wastefully high temperature for most households, as it can cost a household $460 each year in combined standby-heat and demand losses!

The fix: Set your water-heater thermostat to 120 degrees. You probably won’t notice any decreased comfort by lowering to 120F, but you will enjoy 1) lower energy bills, 2) a decrease in mineral buildup/corrosion in your water heater, and 3) a reduced risk of hot-water-scalding and burns!

You can find step-by-step instructions for lowering the water-heater temperature at Energy.Gov.

Note: If you have a suppressed immune system or chronic respiratory disease, you may want to consider keeping your water heater temperature at 140F.

Wasting 3,000 gallons/year via inefficient showerheads

Households with inefficient shower fixtures waste 3,000 gallons of hot water each year! Inefficient showerheads will literally make you pay quite a bit, via 1) larger water bills and 2) extra energy costs to unnecessarily heat that wasteful water.

The fix: Install a low-flow showerhead in your bathroom(s). Energy efficient shower fixtures are not only low-flow; they’re low-cost and quickly pay for themselves with saved energy.

Bonus tip: In Minnesota, CenterPoint Energy routinely offers free low-flow showerheads (and other efficiency-boosting products) in its DIY home efficiency programs and rebates. Ask your energy utility company or local government if there’s a program in your neck of the woods.

Buying the wrong size water heater

Buying a water heater is like buying shoes: You want a perfect fit. An oversized water heater doesn’t mean more comfort – and wastes energy – while an undersized water heater won’t meet your comfort needs.

Never assume the old water-heater’s tank size is proper when you’re replacing it.

The fix: Use our Water Heater Sizing Guide to determine the correct size water heater for your household. If you’re in the HSP service area we can help you find the right size water heater through a phone consultation with an expert; call 612-342-4610 (Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area) or 877-HSP-1664 (greater Minnesota).

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5. Fireplaces: Is Your Hearth Harmful?

Fireplaces can be comfortable source of secondary heat, but fireplace efficiency mistakes can actually raise your home heating costs. Don’t allow your home’s heat to escape out your chimney!

Keep your fireplace efficient by avoiding these common mistakes.

Leaving the fireplace damper open (all the time)

Most wood-burning and gas fireplaces should only be used with the fireplace flue damper open, allowing smoke and/or carbon monoxide to escape through the chimney or vent (the exceptions are ventless, or vent-free, gas fireplace models which don’t have a flue damper).

But homeowners often leave the fireplace damper in the open position, even when the fireplace isn’t in use. The resulting heat loss is comparable to leaving a window open in winter.

The fix: Keep your fireplace damper closed, except when your fireplace is in use.

Bonus tip: Inspect the fireplace flue damper to ensure it’s sealed tightly. If there is a gap, adjust or fix it as soon as possible.

Not installing fireplace doors

Fireplace doors help prevent warm air from escaping your home and going up the chimney; not having them is similar to keeping a window open in winter. When you consider the savings you’ll get on your heating bills, the fireplace doors will quickly pay for themselves and start saving you money.

The fix: Install fireplace doors made of tempered glass and make sure they fit snugly to create a tight seal.

Not addressing a never-used fireplace

Does the mess, hassle and inefficiency of your wood-burning fireplace make you feel like it’s not really worth it? If you never use your fireplace, you can save money on heating costs by taking one of the following actions.

The fixes: Convert your fireplace to natural gas, or hire a contractor to plug and seal your chimney flue. Learn more about converting a fireplace to gas.

Thinking gas-fireplace maintenance isn’t important

Gas fireplace maintenance not only keeps your fireplace running efficiently, but helps protect your family from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and other fire hazards. Skipping maintenance may put your family at risk and could void your fireplace insert manufacturer’s warranty!

The fix: Schedule an annual fireplace tune-up, preferably before the heating season (when you typically start using your fireplace). By scheduling your fireplace maintenance a bit early, you’ll beat the seasonal rush and ensure your system is safe and efficient before your family begins using it.

Live in Minnesota? Check out HSP’s Fireplace & Safety Check.

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Keep learning with these fireplace tips:

6. Portable Space Heaters: Efficient or Deficient?

Space heaters are used in many homes when the primary heating system (furnace or boiler) isn’t sufficiently heating a space. Space heaters are popular because they’re portable, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive to buy, but they have some shortcomings you need to know about.

Avoid these mistakes people make with space heaters.

Using electric space heaters to heat a large area or multiple rooms

There’s a good reason they’re called portable space heaters and not home heating systems. If you are trying to heat a large- or standard-sized home in a cold winter climate like Minnesota, furnace or boiler systems tend to have much lower operating costs than electric heaters.

Space-heater advertisements often boast how they can help you save energy. In some situations they can help, but not as your entire home’s primary heating source. The Department of Energy states, “In some cases, small space heaters can be less expensive to use if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in one room.”

The fix: Consult a home efficiency expert to uncover the most efficient ways to comfortably heat your home. Some cities and counties even have programs for homeowners to receive a low- or no-cost home energy audit. If you can’t afford a home energy efficiency consultant or find a free program in your area, you can always examine your home’s energy usage for clues on what measures help efficiency.

Bonus tip: Use CenterPoint Energy’s free energy tools to uncover energy-saving opportunities. CenterPoint Energy and/or HSP customers can use My Energy Analyzer, and anyone can use the Home Energy Costs and Emissions calculator.

Being unaware of space-heater safety hazards

Space heaters are associated with 25,000 residential fires each year, according to the CPSC. Non-electric, fuel-burning space heaters bring the added risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Minimize the safety hazards of space heaters to keep your family members and home safe.

The fix: Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from space heaters and only use heaters featuring a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts the unit down if it tips onto its side.

Also, avoid using ventless fuel-burning space heaters inside your home; they bring a CO poisoning risk.

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7. Furnaces & Boilers: Efficiency With Little Effort

When it comes to lowering heating bills, people fear that their furnace or boiler needs replaced. But they often overlook easy, less-drastic steps for keeping a furnace efficient and reliable.

Do your best to avoid making these common furnace mistakes.

Not changing the furnace filter when it’s dirty

A dirty furnace filter is the number-one reason for furnace breakdowns! Even if you avoid a breakdown with a dirty filter, it makes your furnace less effective, costs you more fuel, and decreases your home’s air quality.

The fix: Inspect your furnace filter at least every month. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific model; you’ll keep your furnace running at maximum efficiency and won’t risk voiding its manufacturer’s warranty.

Bonus tip: Buy your replacement filters from the Discount Filter Store, which ensures you get the correct furnace filter and can even remind you when it’s time to order more (FREE shipping)!

Incorrectly installing replacement filters

While replacing your furnace filter is pretty straightforward, you don’t want to do it wrong. Incorrect installation can create an overly restrictive air flow, decreasing furnace efficiency.

The fix: Replace your furnace filter correctly!

  1. Shut off the power to your furnace.
  2. Locate the blower compartment (where most furnace filters are found).
  3. Slide out the old filter and replace it with a new one (be sure flow arrows point towards the furnace or blower).

Skipping the annual furnace/boiler tune-up

Annual maintenance on your furnace or boiler will help it run more efficiently, protect against breakdowns and can even help it last longer. You might think you can save money by skipping your furnace or boiler tune-up, but remember that breakdowns typically occur during cold spells (when your furnace is under the greatest amount of stress). You don’t want to be without use of your furnace or boiler during the harshest winter weather!

The fix:Schedule a furnace tune-up every year, before the heating the system begins. And make sure you use a reputable, well-established HVAC company.

Bonus tip: Consider enrolling in a good maintenance plan to help avoid furnace breakdowns and keep your furnace running at maximum efficiency. Annual maintenance can also help extend the life of your appliances.

DIY Installation of furnace or boiler

An incorrect installation can increase heating and cooling bills by as much as 30 percent. That’s bad news considering almost half of all HVAC systems are incorrectly installed, according to the Dept. of Energy. Improper boiler or furnace installation could even expose your family to carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas that kills about 430 people each year.

The fix: Only hire licensed and bonded HVAC contractors to install your furnace or boiler. If your furnace was installed as a DIY job, make sure a HVAC professional inspects it and fixes any mistakes.

If you live in Minnesota, please consider replacing your furnace or boiler through Home Service Plus. We’re the state’s largest provider of major appliance maintenance and repair services, as well as replacement heating and cooling equipment. Unsure if we serve your community? Check HSP service areas.

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Keep learning about efficient home heating:

  • Energy Savings: Heating Furnaces & Boilers, HSP
  • Furnaces & Boilers, Energy.Gov
  • Get Ready for Winter, HSP