Squirrels do it. Farmers do it. And we should do it to: using autumn to prepare for colder winter months ahead.
The clock is ticking. Daylight Savings Time has slipped away — and with it, the chance to work outdoors during the evening. Some parts of the country have already seen their first snowfall, and the Holidays are close at hand. But budgeting a weekend or two for a little winterhacking can still add up to meaningful savings and greater comfort once winter arrives in earnest. Here are seven high-return places to get started while there’s still time.
Light up your life — wisely
Fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures mean we’ll be spending more time indoors. That adds up to higher energy bills, but it’s not just heating. Now is a great time to take a hard look at indoor lighting. While not without environmental controversy, Compact Florescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) have matured to the point that they’re relatively inexpensive, provide good quality light, and result in meaningful reductions to your monthly utility bills. Keep in mind that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury and shouldn’t be tossed out with regular household garbage. Size up disposal options before you buy.
LED bulbs provide even greater efficiency without mercury concerns. They’re getting cheaper and easier to find, but be prepared for sticker shock. Despite their steep purchase price when compared to CFL or traditional bulbs, LEDs have long lifetimes and tremendous potential as money-savers. LED bulbs don’t work quite the same way as incandescents: their light is generally more directional. This will change as the technology improves, but your best bets for LED bulbs today are spot lighting. Outdoor LED floodlights are reasonably priced, durable, and aren’t effected by cold in the same way as standard CFLs. And if you have to replace holiday lights this season, LEDs are a great choice.
If you’d rather stay with conventional bulbs, consider adding motion sensors to fixtures in hallways and less-used rooms. Light will be available when you need it, and shut off automatically when you don’t.
Install a programmable thermostat and check weather stripping
If you have central heat and are comfortable with small electrical projects, a programmable thermostat is a proven way to save money and keep your home more comfortable. There’s no reason to run the heat while you’re away at work, and a programmable unit will have things warm by the time people start getting home. Programmable thermostats start around $35 dollars, which you should quickly recover in savings. Follow safety directions or hire a professional installer if you’re not confident with your own abilities.
The changing seasons take a toll on weather stripping. Give doors and windows the once-over, replacing any stripping which seems worn or cracked. Windows can be sealed with plastic treatment if they’re not likely to be opened until spring. If you’re not already using insulated curtains, they’re worth a look.
Start up a compost pile
It takes moisture and warmth to really get a compost heap cooking, but there’s no reason not to start one now. You probably still have plenty of autumn leaves at hand, and holiday cooking is a great source of kitchen scraps. Just keep your pile covered and damp, and you’ll be ahead of the game come spring.
If you’re short of yard space or live in an area with seasonal snow cover, consider indoor options, such as vermicomposting (worm composting). You can make your own worm bin, and there are plenty of compact and convenient commercial options, such as the Worm Inn. Once you have an indoor system running, you’ll have a reliable outlet for organic household waste and a ready source of year-round compost.
Garden indoors this winter
You may not be able to cultivate rows of tomatoes in your family room, but it’s possible step beyond ornamentals when it comes to indoor growing this winter. If you still have herbs in your garden, consider moving some indoors. Living greenery is a remedy for cabin fever, and will provide fresh ingredients for the kitchen without adding another item to your shopping list.
Mint, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and chives are all likely candidates for relocation. You’ll need to prepare them for the change in conditions by bringing them under cover first. Pot healthy plants and put them on a porch or near a garage window for up to two weeks so they can acclimate to less light and warmer temperatures. Once inside, position them near windows and away from heating ducts. It’s also possible to force seeds over the winter. Return plants to the garden after your area’s last frost.
Preserve harvest foods
We’re getting late in the harvest, but depending on where you live, you’ll still find fresh, locally grown veggies at the farmer’s market. You can enjoy these all through the winter months if you’re willing to spend an afternoon or two doing some home canning.
These days, the popular term for canning is fresh preserving. This makes sense, since most preserving is done in jars, not metal cans. In any case, it’s an inexpensive way to set aside perishable foods for year-round consumption. Canning trumps freezing in terms of energy use, since properly canned items have a long shelf life at room temperature.
You’ll find plenty of books, videos, and websites on how to get started. But perhaps the best source of instruction are our parents and grandparents. Home canning has been largely pushed aside by our modern infatuation with processed and prepared foods, but it was a regular part of homemaking a generation ago. This sort of knowledge, passed on from warm hand to warm hand, goes beyond mere utilitarianism. Find someone to show you the ropes, and you’ll be preserving tradition and family ties — not just food.
Weatherize your transportation
Winter can be tough on automobiles. Improve your car’s efficiency and reliability before cold weather sets in, and you’ll enjoy safer and more affordable driving. Start with a tuneup, particularly if your car is showing signs of stalling or rough idling. These problems usually get worse with cold weather, and are a sign you’re already wasting gasoline. While multi viscosity motor oils may be fine for your local driving conditions, check the service manual to see if it recommends a seasonal change. Remove any summer clutter from your trunk — every pound saved means a little bit better mileage. Examine tires for wear and proper inflation. Test your antifreeze. While you’re at it, be sure you have an emergency cold weather road kit, including hats, food, and a couple of blankets.
If — like me — you’re carfree, you’ll also need to do a little planning. Locate your winter outerwear. Be sure it still fits and is in good repair. Sealed-seam jackets, hoods, winter cycling gloves and booties: It’s pretty hard to overdo these things. Depending on your region’s road conditions, it may make sense to fit more rugged tires during the winter months (or even spiked tires, if the weather is sufficiently extreme). Keep your chain lubed, and remember that road salts and wet weather riding mean you’ll be cleaning more often. Inspect frequently, and roll to the bike shop if you have any questions.
Rethink the holidays
There aren’t many upsides to a slow economy. But big retailers are already reporting that shoppers are paying attention to gifts that are more modest, practical, and personal this year. It’s a pity it took a steep recession to get people reconsidering how we celebrate the holidays.
Consider handmade gifts this year. Elegant food and craft items are one-of-a-kind ways to show you care, and they needn’t break the bank. Arriving at the perfect modest gift is more effective than just waving a charge card, and it’s long past time we all stepped away from equating spending and love.
If you’re not crafty, you’ll find thousands of people who are at Etsy. Check out Eco Etsy, Etsy Green and Clean and Etsy Organic. Or take a completely different tack, and donate to a charity in someone else’s name. Oxfam Unwrapped is one such program, allowing you to donate the equivalent of a goat or school desk and chair somewhere it’s desperately needed. Oxam will send a card to whomever you wish announcing the gift (for an index of international Oxfam Unwrapped programs, click here).
This article originally appeared on More Minimal.