It’s back: heating season. While visions of fireplaces and cozy blankets are what we want to envision, when it comes to oil, gas, and electric bills, you’ve probably tried such basic cost-cutting moves as wearing a sweater in the house and turning down the thermostat when you leave.

There are ways you can save kilowatt-hours or gallons of heating oil. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is possible to save 5{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} to 30{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} on energy bills by making efficiency upgrades. Try these low-tech tips:

1. The $1 draft test.

one dollar billIf you can insert a dollar bill around windows or doors, that’s enough space for heat to escape. Seal up these air gaps with caulking or insulating strips, or staple plastic sheeting over windows. Block under-door drafts with a draft blocker filled with sand or kitty litter.

2. The garbage bag moisture test.

A clammy basement makes the whole house feel colder. Duct-tape a garbage bag to the basement floor for 24 hours. If the bag’s outline is visible when you remove it, water is wicking in from outside the foundation. See if clogged gutters or missing downspouts are letting rainwater soak the soil next to your cellar walls.

3. The purple Kool-Aid® toilet test.

kool aid toilet trickA leaky toilet makes your water pump work harder, running up your electric bill and using unnecessary water. To see if you have a leak, pour unsweetened grape Kool-Aid in the toilet tank and wait a few minutes. If the water in the bowl turns purple without flushing, you probably need to replace the seals in the tank.

4. The range hood scrub.

Give the fan over your kitchen range a new lease on life by cleaning the yucky filter. To get rid of the grease and grime, pop the filter into your automatic dishwasher.

5. The annual furnace physical.

Some utilities will clean and inspect your furnace for free, or it may be part of an annual maintenance contract. During cold weather, disposable filters for forced-air furnaces should be replaced every month. Since disposables reportedly trap only 10{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} to 40{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} of contaminants, you might consider replacing them with a genuine HEPA filter, designed to remove 99.97{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} of mold, bacteria, viruses, and pollen.

6. The reverse-fan blowdown.

fanWarm air rises. To push it back down where it can keep you cozier, run your ceiling fan in reverse (clockwise).

7. The radiator warmup.

If your hot-water pipes are getting chilled in a cold cellar, the boiler has to burn more kilowatts to keep your radiators warm (and keep hot water on hand when you turn on the faucet). You can install pipe insulation yourself. Bonus: You may be able to turn your water heater down from the standard setting of 140 degrees.

8. The power turnoff.

Your dad was right: turning off lights when you leave a room really can save money (lighting makes up an estimated 11{a16c29276902c0134dc3724dc6f6a60124a484baf737123e94c02cf5a4efbdc5} of the average home’s energy bill). Turn off entertainment centers and computers at night, too. Even in sleep mode, they can drain electricity.

9. The big blow-dry.

clothes drying rackThe clothes dryer is probably your home’s biggest energy hog. If possible, line-dry your laundry outdoors. If you like the extra fluffiness of tumble-dried clothes or bedding, take them off the line when they’re almost dry and toss them in the dryer for a few final minutes.

10. The chimney stopper.

Need a little incentive to make a bigger improvement? Through Efficiency Maine, you can receive up to $2,000 for qualifying energy upgrades to your home’s insulation or heating system. For details, visit



Fireplace flues are notorious for sucking heat from a house. Close the damper and hold a lighted incense stick under it. If the smoke goes up, you have an air leak. Can’t adjust the damper? Cut a sheet of plywood to the right size and shape and place it against the fireplace opening as a draft-stopper. Paint or decorate it as you like.