With fall weather upon us, many Washington residents are starting to think about heating their homes this winter. Home heating costs were exceptionally high last winter for many Washington households due to a surge in natural gas and electricity costs.
Increasing energy costs combined with record-high inflation are causing some Washingtonians to sacrifice home comfort or to reduce spending on other essential items like food or medicine to stay warm.
“We’re seeing a lot of people strain their budgets and sacrifice and go without,” said Andrea Caupain Sanderson, CEO of Byrd Barr Place, a social service organization that distributes energy assistance funding to lower-income residents of Seattle.
But there are many actions you can take to keep your winter energy bills from skyrocketing this winter. Read on to learn how to reduce your heating bills from Seattle to Vancouver without sacrificing home comfort.
Why are my home heating bills so expensive?
There can be numerous culprits for high heating bills. Here are some common factors that can contribute to expensive heating bills:
- Inefficient Heating System: Outdated or inefficient HVAC equipment can consume more energy when operating. Older home furnaces or boilers may not be as energy-efficient as newer models, leading to higher heating costs.
- Lack of Maintenance: A poorly maintained heating system can run less efficiently, causing it to use more fuel. Regular maintenance, such as regularly replacing furnace filters and sealing duct leaks, can help improve efficiency.
- Inadequate Home Insulation: Many homes in Washington State are not well insulated, especially if they are older homes. Insufficient insulation in your attic, exterior walls, ductwork, and basement can lead to heat loss and uneven temperatures throughout your apartment or house. If your home is not well-insulated, warm air can escape, and cold winter air can enter, forcing your heating system to work overtime.
- Thermostat Settings: Keeping your thermostat set too high can significantly increase heating costs. Lowering the thermostat by a few degrees can result in substantial energy savings. Have your thermostat set at the lowest temperature that is still safe and comfortable.
- Air Leaks: Gaps and cracks in doors, windows, walls, and ceilings can allow warm air to escape and cold air to enter. Air leaks also cause drafts in your home, reducing winter comfort. Sealing these leaks can help reduce heating costs and boost home comfort.
- Extreme Weather Conditions: Exceptionally cold or windy weather can cause your heating system to run more to maintain the desired indoor temperature, resulting in higher bills during those periods. For example, in recent years in Washington, we’ve experienced arctic cold fronts that resulted in cold snaps and high heating bills.
- High Fuel Prices: The cost of electricity, natural gas, propane, firewood, and fuel oil can fluctuate based on market conditions. Rising energy and fuel prices can directly impact your heating costs. However, price volatility varies depending on the fuel source and numerous other factors.
- Size of Your Home: Larger homes generally require more energy to heat, which can lead to higher heating bills than smaller homes in Washington.
- Local Utility Rates: The cost of energy can vary by location, depending on utility rates and regional energy supply and demand factors. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) helps oversee publicly-owned utilities in the state to ensure reliable and fairly priced service.
How can I lower my home heating bills in Washington State?
You can reduce your winter heating bills in numerous ways, including energy-saving strategies, improving your home’s efficiency, and making smart choices regarding your heating system.
- Regular Maintenance: Ensure your heating system is well-maintained, and schedule annual inspections and cleaning for your furnace or boiler. A well-maintained system operates more efficiently. Change the filters regularly if you have a natural gas, electric, or propane furnace.
- Install a Solar Energy System: Solar panels can dramatically reduce your electricity bill. More than half of Washington homes use electric heat, so tapping this free energy source can virtually eliminate your heating costs. Contact Smart Solar Energy to learn how much you can save on your energy bills!
- Lower Your Thermostat Setting: Set your thermostat to a cooler temperature when you’re at home, and use extra blankets or layers of clothing to stay warm. However, do not lower the thermostat to levels that are unsafe or could impact your health.
- Perform a Home Energy Audit: There are various ways to boost your home’s energy efficiency, and a DIY audit is a great way to identify opportunities to conserve energy. Seattle City Lights has a guide on completing a home energy audit in Washington.
- Install a Smart Thermostat: It can automatically adjust the temperature when you’re away or sleeping, saving energy without sacrificing home comfort. Some Washington utility companies, such as Avista and Puget Sound Energy, offer rebates for installing smart thermostats.
- Seal Air Leaks: Identify and seal gaps and cracks in your home’s windows, doors, walls, and attic. Use weatherstripping and caulk to seal leaks around windows and doors. This weatherization can be a DIY project because it doesn’t require a lot of skill.
- Insulate Your Home: Ensure your home is well-insulated, especially in the attic and walls, and consider adding additional insulation if needed to reduce heat loss. Various types of home insulation lower winter heating bills, including cellulose, fiberglass, spray foam, mineral wool, and rigid foam.
- Heating System Efficiency: If your heating system is old and inefficient, consider upgrading to energy-efficient heat pumps. The State Energy Office will receive funding for residential heat pump incentives, which can help reduce the upfront cost of installing energy-saving heat pumps. If you install a rooftop solar system, you can virtually eliminate your electricity and heating bills!
- Avoid Space Heaters: Use space heaters sparingly because they can drive up your electric bills. If you use space heaters, use them safely to avoid the fire risk.
- Take Advantage of Natural Heat: Open curtains during the day in sunny rooms to let in natural sunlight, which can help warm your home. This works best on south, east, or west-facing windows in Washington, but not north windows because they do not get direct sunlight.
- Install Energy-efficient Window Treatments: Energy-saving blinds and curtains can provide a layer of insulation and help keep heat from escaping through the windows during the winter months. Close these window treatments at night to keep cold air out. Cellular shades are among the most effective, especially if they have a high R-value. This approach is especially beneficial if you have single-pane windows or lots of air leaks around your windows.
- Utility Programs: Check with your local utility company for energy-saving programs, rebates, or incentives for upgrading to energy-efficient heating systems or making specific home improvements. These incentives can reduce the total cost of making energy-saving upgrades. Some Washington utility incentive programs may have income eligibility requirements and are primarily intended for low-income households.
- Energy Conserving Habits: Develop energy-saving habits, such as turning off lights and electronics when not in use, fixing leaky faucets, and washing laundry in cold water to reduce hot water consumption. When you buy new appliances, look for Energy Star-certified models.
Will my heating bills increase this year in Washington?
Washington residents use a variety of energy sources to heat their homes, including electricity, natural gas, propane, and wood. If your heating bills will go up this year and by how much depends largely on how you heat your home and your local electric company.
For example, electricity bills have increased in the Seattle area at the highest rate in a decade, so homes with electric baseboard heat may have some high home heating costs this winter, especially if they don’t take action to conserve electricity.
By contrast, natural gas prices can fluctuate a lot from month to month. Due to this volatility, natural gas bills can be more difficult to predict. Even the cost of firewood can be relatively unpredictable and currently costs between $300 and $480 a cord in Washington.
One of the best ways to ensure extremely low home heating bills and decrease your carbon footprint is to use energy-efficient heat pumps and install solar panels to power them. Heat pumps are an excellent heating solution in Washington that can also cool your home in the summer months. The technology has advanced significantly, so it works efficiently even in low temperatures.
Why have my heating bills suddenly increased?
Many Battleground, Washington homeowners get alarmed when they see sudden increases in their Clark PUD bill as a result of home heating. Many times, these changes are largely unavoidable, but in some cases, there are actions you can take to reduce them.
Of course, your heating bills will increase in the winter dramatically compared to the fall and spring due to decreases in temperatures. In addition, sudden cold snaps or severe weather conditions can force your heating system to work overtime to maintain a comfortable temperature, leading to higher bills.
If you use natural gas or propane for home heating, fluctuations in fuel prices can directly impact your bills, especially during periods of rising energy costs. Although electricity rates have been increasing in places like Olympia, Washington, these rate hikes are planned ahead of time. Therefore, they are easier to budget for.
Aging or poorly maintained heating systems may become less efficient over time, causing increased energy consumption and higher bills. For example, if the filter on your furnace needs to be changed, it can restrict airflow and make your heating system work harder to compensate.
Accidentally or unknowingly setting your thermostat higher can increase heating costs, as the system works to reach the higher temperature. Likewise, leaving a window open can have a similar effect.
How can I reduce the carbon footprint from heating my home?
Reducing your home energy use with the steps highlighted above, installing energy-efficient heat pumps, and switching to renewable energy are the best ways to reduce your environmental impact and minimize climate change. Installing solar panels is one of the best ways to use renewable energy by tapping the free energy falling on your property.
How to go solar in Washington State
If you want to install solar panels on your home, Smart Solar Energy is an excellent choice. Our team is skilled in sizing a solar system to help you reduce your carbon footprint and energy bills. We use some of the best solar panels and inverters available in Washington with long product and labor warranties. Our electricians are skilled in getting the job done right so you can enjoy decades of clean energy production.
The best way to get started with installing solar panels on your home in Washington is to contact Smart Solar Energy. We can evaluate your home for solar and give you an estimate of your solar energy output.
Our team is dedicated to delivering exceptional customer service every step of the way, even after we make the final connection. All of our systems include 24/7 solar monitoring, and a Smart Solar Energy team member will review this data monthly to ensure the array is producing solar electricity as expected.
Request a free solar audit with us to learn more about installing solar on your home. We’ll assess the solar energy potential of your property and estimate your utility bill savings.