Howling winds, below freezing temperatures, snow accumulations.

Despite the calendar’s proclamation that winter begins on Dec. 21, Douglas County has already received a taste of the change in seasons, which begs the question: Are there ways for those on pinched budgets to save money on their energy bills this winter?

The newspaper recently received a news release from the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. It noted that electric cooperatives throughout the state are encouraging consumers to take advantage of free or inexpensive options available to better manage energy use and make a meaningful impact on monthly bills.

Here’s the association’s advice:

  • Have an energy audit. Identifying energy-efficient measures specific to your home can help save money on monthly utility bills. Contact your electric cooperative for more information.

  • Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. Keep the fireplace damper closed unless you have a fire burning. Replace an inefficient wood-burning fireplace with a more efficient wood stove or gas insert.

  • Use the sunshine to your advantage. Open blinds on sunny winter days to warm your home and shut them at sundown to trap heat inside.

  • Install a smart thermostat. Smart thermostats can automatically turn off or reduce heating and cooling when you’re asleep or not home.

  • Use smart power strips. Electricity consumed by electronics when they are not in use or on standby wastes energy.

  • Seal air leaks around your home. Weatherizing your home is an easy way to reduce heating and cooling costs without upgrading your HVAC system. Use weatherstripping, caulk or plastic film on windows and small openings to keep out cold air.

  • Replace your furnace air filter. Change out your air filter once a month. Maintaining proper airflow keeps your HVAC system from working overtime.

  • Use LED lighting. LED lights are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and fluorescents

  • Lower the water heater temperature. Some manufacturers set water heater thermostats at 140°F, but most households usually only require them to be set at 120°F. For each 10°F reduction in water temperature, you can save 3% to 5% in energy costs.

  • Energy conservation and demand response programs are valuable tools for saving on monthly bills through reduced electricity rates. Many electric cooperatives offer rebates on energy-efficient products like smart thermostats, air-source heat pumps and electric water heaters, which help reduce both the cost of initial investments and monthly energy usage. Some co-ops offer financing for energy-efficient home improvement projects.

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“Electric co-ops proactively champion innovative solutions, which give consumer-owners resources to save money and energy,” said Darrick Moe, CEO, Minnesota Rural Electric Association.

If you are a cooperative member having trouble paying your electric bill, contact your local electric co-op to discuss payment plans and receive information on other resources, such as the federally-funded Energy Assistance Program for income-qualified households to help with home heating costs and furnace repairs, Moe said.

We’ve got a lot of snow and cold temperatures waiting for us. Are you and your home ready for it?