Keeping Heating Bills Low When the Temperature Drops

By Jonathan Susser | December 28, 2018

Most households in North Carolina rely on heat pumps for their primary winter heat and can be shocked by bills from the coldest winter months. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to spend less on heating this winter.

Routine maintenance is the number one way to keep a heat pump running efficiently and for as long as possible.

  • Keep shrubs at least two feet from the outside unit.
  • Change the air filter regularly or per the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Make sure the refrigerant lines exposed to outdoor temperatures are wrapped with foam insulation.
  • Hire a heating and cooling company to service the heat pump every fall.

Cultivating habits with your household costs nothing.

  • The fan setting on the thermostat should be set to “auto,” not “on.”
  • Check that windows—including storm windows—and exterior doors are latched shut. Don’t leave the front door standing open and expect the storm door to keep heated air inside your home.
  • Mindfully manage the thermostat by either leaving the temperature the same all the time (at the coldest temperature you can tolerate) or setting a programmable thermostat to adjust temperatures depending on when you are home.

The goal is to avoid using the heat pump’s emergency heat strips, which are enlarged versions of the heat strips found in a toaster. They are meant to be used only when a heat pump alone cannot warm your home to the set temperature, which typically occurs when outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They also sometimes turn on when the thermostat is dramatically adjusted—like when you return from vacation—and will cost you a lot. A thermostat that you pre-program will anticipate the number of hours it takes to warm a space without using the heat strips.

Some heat pumps have an outdoor thermostat that prevents the heat strips from coming on when outdoor temperatures are high enough for the heat pump to warm the house. This allows families to make big adjustments to their thermostats without worrying about the heat strips.

Home improvements such as duct sealing or sealing cracks and holes that let in outside air are another approach.

Paying winter bills is a challenge for many families. Ask your electric utility about an in-home energy audit, retrofit incentives and equal payment plans. Alternatively, look for bill payment assistance from your utility or community organizations. For families with the means to pay their bills, consider contributing monthly to local groups that help others stay warm in the winter.