Energy saving

Simple steps to a home both cozy and cost-efficient

 

Associated Press

As temperatures drop and daylight is in shorter supply, we bring out the space heaters and turn on lights earlier and earlier. In South Florida, our use of air conditioning drops, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to watch our electric bills.

Here, three home design experts offer advice on how to keep things cozy while minimizing energy use this winter. Their suggestions range from the traditional (there’s a reason why your grandmother hung those heavy curtains in winter) to the high-tech, including a thermostat that can talk to your iPad.

TRY NEW TECH

Maxwell Ryan, founder of the popular home decor website ApartmentTherapy.com, is a designer. John Colaneri, co-host of HGTV’s Kitchen Cousins, is a construction expert who builds and remodels homes.

Both offer identical pieces of advice about staying warm while conserving power and saving money: Swap out your old incandescent bulbs (and those swirly compact fluorescent bulbs, too) for the new Cree brand LED bulbs.

“They can last longer than 10 years and they use 84 percent less energy than incandescents,” Ryan says. “They also are dimmable” and give a warm-looking light — a big change from the energy-saving compact fluorescents.

“If you do the math on the LED,” he says, the bulbs save you so much on electricity that they pay for themselves within a year and then last about nine more years.

Colaneri and Ryan also both advise homeowners to replace old thermostats with new Nest brand models. “They take 30 percent off your bill each month,” Colaneri says. “And they look very high-tech and cool to display.”

Nests are programmable “learning thermostats,” which means they track your habits and adjust accordingly. They also connect via Wi-Fi to check weather reports online, and you can control them remotely from an iPad.

There is new outdoor technology, as well. On your deck or patio, designer Brian Patrick Flynn suggests adding a new propane-powered space heater. The newest models are cost-effective and stylish, says Flynn, executive producer of HGTV.com’s Holiday House.

“They look like modern sculpture,” says Flynn, “and many of them are under $500. To ensure my outdoor spaces stay warm during the winter, I keep modern, 7-foot tall space heaters in my covered outdoor living room. They’re on wheels, so it’s easy to move them around to wherever people are seated. And once lit, the glass tubes which contain the flame from the propane tank put on a gorgeous show.”

EMBRACE UPHOLSTERY

Warm, cozy upholstery fabrics work on a practical level by holding your warmth when you touch or sit on them. But Ryan points out that they also work visually: A room full of soft, warm fabrics will give you a psychological sense of warmth that adds to your enjoyment.

So add throw blankets to chairs and sofas, and swap out silk-covered pillows and even lampshades for ones covered in thicker, nubbier fabrics like muslin and burlap.

Ryan also recommends using thick curtains in winter. A decade ago, he says, “curtains were considered fusty and old-fashioned and expensive.” But with so many beautiful, inexpensive curtains available today, they’ve become popular again.

Besides adding color or a bold pattern to a room, curtains also block cold air that might leak in around windows. And they muffle sound from outside, which Ryan says helps make rooms feel more insulated in winter.

“Curtains aren’t just for your grandparents anymore,” he says.

The same technique can help warm up outdoor spaces. Flynn recommends Sunbrella’s outdoor velveteen fabric for chairs and sofas. He also likes thick, woven blends.

“Velveteen is amazing for the outdoors,” he says, “since it’s warm and fuzzy.”

LIGHT THE FIRE

Crackling flames in an indoor fireplace can change the feel of a room instantly. And outdoors, they bring a welcome infusion of heat and light on a winter evening.

“Outdoor fireplaces are increasingly more and more popular, coast to coast,” Flynn says. “They’re not all that much of an expense like an outdoor kitchen would be.”

If you’re building a new outdoor fireplace, leave ample room for seating. More common in South Florida is the fire pit, small and mobile and just enough to take the chill off a cool evening, but like outdoor fireplaces in colder climates, “the whole idea is to gather and stay cozy outdoors,” Flynn says. Think upholstered outdoor furniture that will reinforce that cozy feeling.

LAY DOWN RUGS

Gleaming hardwood or tile floors are lovely. But in cold weather, add a thick rug or swap out a thin one for something heavier. This will not only warm your feet, but also change the look and sound of your space.

“When acoustics are dampened,” Ryan says, “the room feels warmer.”

An outdoor rug can have the same impact. “Thick outdoor area rugs are made of acrylic/wool blends,” Flynn says. “The wool feels great on your feet and definitely locks in warmth.”

IMPROVE CIRCULATION

This last tip, shared by Maxwell Ryan, comes from a conversation he had years ago with home decor guru Martha Stewart. She advised him to run his ceiling fans backward in winter to push warm air back down along the walls of the room.

If you don’t have ceiling fans, Ryan suggests adding one or two for energy savings and added comfort year-round.

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