Older adults on fixed incomes might find themselves looking for quick and easy ways to save money, and one of the first places people often look is to the heating bill.
To save money, many older adults set their thermostats dangerously low in winter. But why is turning down the heat a bad idea in the first place? Trying to save on heating costs may end up costing more if they develop hypothermia and have to go to the hospital. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to a dangerously low level. Only a few degrees of lower body temperature, such as 95 degrees Fahrenheit, is dangerous for a senior’s wellness. Early signs of hypothermia include cold feet and hands, puffy or swollen face, pale skin, shivering, slower than normal speech or slurring words, acting sleepy or being angry or confused. Any of these signs in an older adult are reason to call your doctor. As a general recommendation, seniors should not set their thermostat any lower than 70 degrees to help keep safe during the winter.
Many find it difficult to absorb rising fuel costs. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), some older adults spend more than 30 percent of their income for home energy costs. Many will sell their valuables, borrow money, and forgo proper diet and visits to the doctor just to keep the heat on.
Older adults on a fixed income who are having trouble paying their utility bills, replacing a furnace or making energy improvements to their home can get financial help through the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program is funded on the federal level but administered by the states. To find out how to apply in your state, call your local Aging and Disability Resource Center or your power company. Here is the website for more information in Wisconsin: http://www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov/.
When the cold weather arrives, here are some simple things that older adults can do to help reduce monthly energy costs.
1. Caulk or weatherstrip windows and doors. Outside air can enter your home through leaks and cracks around your doors and windows. Check them, and if outdoor air is getting in, use caulk or weatherstripping in the necessary areas.
2. Get a programmable thermostat. Lowering or raising your home’s temperature by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours as you sleep can save $100 a year. Get a programmable thermostat so you do not forget.
3. Use insulating plastic on your windows. The savings in annual energy costs can amount to more than 10% of your yearly heating bill.
4. Place foam gaskets behind light switch plate covers and electrical outlet covers. Electrical outlets and light switch plates are common places for air to leak into rooms, especially on outside walls. The foam gaskets are low-cost products that can be purchased at hardware stores. To install them all you have to do is unscrew the cover, put the gasket in place, and replace the cover (make sure you’re using screws that are long enough).
5. Dress warmer. If you are still feeling a little cool, throw on a fluffy pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. A pair of snug socks also goes a long way in keeping us warm, since our extremities (like our feet and hands) are where a lot of our body heat escapes. Even wearing a warm hat indoors will help prevent heat loss through your head.
6. Use blankets. Much like dressing in warmer clothes, a warm blanket or throw can really keep you feeling toasty on a chilly day. They act as a barrier between you and the cold air outside and keep the warm air in around you. If you’re cutting heating costs this winter, stock up on plenty of blankets to store around the house.
7. Close curtains/drapes when the sun goes down or when you are not home to retain heat. Letting sunlight in by opening curtains, blinds and shades over windows facing the sun helps keep your home warm and reduces heating needs. At night or when the sky is overcast, keeping drapes and curtains closed will help keep the warmth indoors.
8. Close doors and vents in unused rooms. If you have a room in your house that people rarely enter, you’re wasting valuable energy heating it in the wintertime. Close off all vents in the room and shut all doors. This will prevent you from paying to heat uninhabited space.
9. Radiators and heaters: Make sure these are not blocked by furniture, curtains or other items. Make sure warm-air registers, heaters and radiators are clean.
10. Heating/cooling system maintenance. It is always a good idea to have your heating/cooling system cleaned before it becomes cold. Make sure it is in good working order. Do not forget to check your outside a/c unit to make sure there are no problems. Keep the area free of debris for best results. Change your air filters regularly. Have your ductwork inspected. Make sure all vents and registers are cleaned and free of blockage.