autumn
The air is getting crisper every morning, the leaves are starting to change color and drop, and the Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSLs) are back at Starbucks. It means fall has arrived. I know some people are boycotting anything pumpkin spice related until the official beginning of fall (September 22), but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an early start to slashing the upcoming “w” word’s energy bills. Here are some simple things you can do now that will pay off big-time in the colder days to come (you can even sip your PSL while you read this… I won’t judge!).

Clean, Service or Upgrade Your Heating System

One of the simplest and cheapest things you can do to maximize your furnace’s efficiency is to replace the air filter – now, and then every 30 to 45 days. Make it easy for yourself by setting mobile calendar reminders. If it hasn’t been serviced by a professional in a few years, that’s also a good idea too. Just like other pieces of equipment, heating systems need a ‘tune up’ every now and then. Finally, if you’re due for a new furnace, take advantage of federal tax credits (up to $500) by purchasing one that meets the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards. Upgrade to solar, wind, geothermal or fuel-cell technology, and you’ll be reimbursed 30 percent of the cost, including installation (you’ll need to fill out Form 5695 when the time comes).

Install a Programmable Thermostat (and Lower It)

It makes sense not to waste heat when you don’t need it. Even the cheapest programmable thermostat can save up to $150 a year, so invest the time and money to install one. Lowering the temperature 10 to 15 degrees during the two sets of eight hours you’re at work and sleeping at night could lower your bill as much as 10 percent. Even lowering it one degree during the day correlates to a two percent decrease in heating costs.

Keep the Heat – Curtains, Leaks and Upgrades

Keeping the curtains on south-facing windows open during the day helps heat your home naturally with sunlight, while closing them at night keeps out chilly air. Besides weather-proofing windows like most of us do, look for other places your home is leaking energy: worn weather strips, mail slots, around pipes and wire holes, through unfinished spaces, and in the attic – where the majority of heat rises and then escapes. Caulk, weather strip, and insulate everything you can.

Replacing old insulation, roofing, windows and doors with more energy-efficient counterparts will ultimately save the most, especially since you can recoup the expense by claiming the energy tax credit (10 percent of the cost up to $500, or a specific amount from $50 to $300).

Enjoy the Fireplace

Fall is the perfect time to take advantage of a natural fireplace if you have one, not only for the ambiance but for the energy savings (as long as you remember to close the damper between uses). Lower the thermostat between 50 and 55 degrees and close surrounding doors to keep the area toasty.

Editor’s Note: Do make sure that the fireplace is a traditional log burning one. The one I have at home uses gas, so you aren’t really saving anything by turning that on instead of the heater since both units run on gas.

Increasing your heating efficiency and lowering your energy bill really isn’t that hard, and just think what you could do with that extra wiggle room in your budget: debt repayment, retirement savings, college savings, or just some short-term savings goals (maybe holiday spending).

Take a few steps while it’s (almost) fall, and you’ll be thankful the rest of the “w.”