7 ways to cut your home heating costs during Michigan's cold months

The cold is here.

It's November in Michigan, which means temperatures are starting to dip below freezing, snowflakes are flying and ice is starting to creep onto our sidewalks. The horror!

It also means families around Michigan are turning the furnace on and that means rising energy bills through the winter.

DTE Energy has some tips to help keep costs down during the cold months in Michigan:


You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.

Programmable Thermostat
Install a programmable thermostat. Homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings. 

Temperature Settings for Heating Season
You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F or as low as is possible while you're awake and setting it lower while you're asleep or away from home. Although thermostats can be adjusted manually, programmable thermostats will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to normal before you wake or return home.


Adding Moisture to the Air
Typically, humidifiers are run during colder months when various types of heating systems tend to dry out the air in your home. Moist air feels warmer and holds heat better, so a humidifier can help you feel comfortable when your thermostat is set at a lower temperature. 

Use Efficiently
Look for a humidifier with an adjustable humidistat to maintain desired humidity and set so the appliance does not run continuously.

Proper Circulation
Humidifiers work best when air can circulate freely through the appliance. Place away from walls and bulky furniture.

Air Sealing and Insulation

Seal Then Insulate
Sealing air leaks around your home and adding insulation as needed can help your home be more comfortable and energy efficient and provide up to a 10% savings on your annual energy bills. Simple fixes include installing weatherstripping on doors and caulking around windows, while bigger jobs might include sealing leaks and adding insulation in your attic.

Check out our DTE Energy Insulation and Windows program to see if you are eligible for rebates on energy efficient insulation and window upgrades.

Sealing Hidden Leaks
Air can leak out of your house around openings that are not in obvious sight. Common household air leaks can be found around the plumbing vents, attic hatch, recessed lights and basement rim joists. To maximize home efficiency, seal all the gaps where air can leak out.

Attic Air Sealing 
The attic is usually where you can find some of the largest opportunities to save energy in your home. By air sealing in your attic, you can stop many major air leaks and help to maintain the desired temperature throughout your home. Combined with attic insulation, air sealing can help to alleviate the formation of dangerous ice dams in the winter.

Cold Floors
Although some types of floor coverings will naturally feel cold on bare feet, insufficient insulation or air infiltration could be the cause for cold floors. Air sealing and insulation can help stop drafts and improve the comfort of your home. Contact a heating and cooling contractor to check if your heating and cooling system is providing enough air to each room.

Sealing With Fire-Resistant Materials
Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheetrock and furnace cement caulk.

Increase Comfort
Sealing leaks and adding insulation can improve the overall comfort of your home and help to fix many of these common problems:

  • Reduced noise from outside
  • Less pollen, dust and insects (or pests) entering your home
  • Better humidity control
  • Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves

Most Homes will Benefit
Most homes in the United States don't have enough insulation and have significant air leaks. In fact, if you added up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home's envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year!

Roof and Attic

Ensure the roof has adequate ventilation to avoid ice blockages. In the winter, warm, moist air seeps into the attic from the living space below.

Attic Ventilation
It is more important, from a structural integrity standpoint, that an attic be properly ventilated than insulated. Of course, both depend on the other to function correctly. If the heat is not ventilated, it can build up on the underside of the roof causing snowmelt. As a result, water runs down the roof to the eave, where it typically is not over a heated attic, turning colder. The water then refreezes causing an "ice-dam" allowing water to back-up under the roof shingles causing leaks. The house can also be damaged from ice weight and failing ice.

Adding Solar Panels
Harness the power of the sun. Consider adding rooftop solar panels to your home.


Close Fireplace Damper
Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney. 

Lack of Use
If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.

Maximizing Heat
If you do use the fireplace, you can install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.

Doors and Windows

Use the Heat from the Sun
In the winter, keep the draperies and blinds on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to warm your home and closed at night to reduce the chill and drafts.

Save with ENERGY STAR®
ENERGY STAR-certified windows, doors, and skylights can reduce your energy bills by an average of 12% nationwide, while helping protect the environment.

Storm Windows
During the winter months, replace your screens with storm windows to provide an extra barrier to the cold outside air.

Replacing Windows
Replacing old windows with ENERGY STAR-certified models lowers household energy bills and can save up to $150 -500 per year in energy costs. Check out our DTE Energy Insulation and Windows program to see if you are eligible for rebates on energy-efficient window upgrades.

Protect Your Belongings
Low-emissivity coatings on many ENERGY STAR-certified windows, doors, and skylights reduces UV sun damage to floors, carpets, and furniture.

Increase Comfort
Put an end to cold drafts and overheated spaces. ENERGY STAR-certified windows, doors, and skylights keep your home’s temperature consistently comfortable. Even your loveseat right by the window can be cozy with ENERGY STAR.

Cover Drafty Windows
It may be too cold outside to caulk around windows or new windows may not be in the budget, but you can still install low-cost, clear plastic window sheeting over leaking windows to keep cold air out. The plastic must be sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.

Insulated Drapes
Install insulated drapes or blinds to keep warm air inside.

Furnace and Boiler

Pre-Season Check-Up
Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. DTE provides rebates to help offset the cost on furnace or boiler tune-ups with combustion analysis! Contractors get busy once winter comes, so it's best to check the heating system in the fall.

Clean/Replace Filters
Clean or replace furnace and air filters regularly—filters should be cleaned or replaced at least every three months. Dirty filters block air flow, causing your furnace and central air conditioning to work harder and less economically.

Energy Star Certified Gas Furnaces
ENERGY STAR-certified gas furnaces (specific to the northern half of the U.S.) will be up to 15 percent more energy efficient than baseline models and can save up to $75 a year in energy costs.

Selecting Size
An undersized furnace will not heat your home properly. An oversized furnace will cost more to purchase and operate. Check with your contractor to find the right size furnace for your home.

Save Money and Help the Environment 
If every gas furnace sold in the U.S. meets the new ENERGY STAR requirements, consumer energy cost savings would grow to about $171 million per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by the equivalent of those from about 177,000 cars.

Is Your Furnace or Boiler More than 15 Years Old?
Consider replacing with an ENERGY STAR-qualified furnace, which is 15% more efficient than a conventional furnace. If you have a boiler, consider replacing with an ENERGY STAR-qualified boiler that is 5% more efficient than a new, standard model. 

ENERGY STAR®-Certified Boilers
ENERGY STAR-certified boilers have annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings of 87% or greater for oil boilers and 90% or greater for gas boilers. AFUE is the measure of heating equipment efficiency. They achieve greater efficiency with features, including:

  • electronic ignition, which eliminates the need to have the pilot light burning all the time
  • new combustion technologies that extract more heat from the same amount of fuel
  • sealed combustion that uses outside air to fuel the burner, reducing drafts and improving safety.

Look for a High AFUE Rating
Look for an Energy Guide label with a high Annual Fuel Utilization (AFUE) rating. A central furnace or boiler's efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by a furnace or boiler. An AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10% escapes up the chimney and elsewhere. AFUE doesn't include the heat losses of the duct system or piping, which can be as much as 35% of the energy for output of the furnace when ducts are in the attic, garage, or other partially conditioned or unconditioned space.

Check out more tips from DTE here.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.