I remember when my husband and I first filled up our house's oil tank. It was brutally expensive, but, as we saw it, the cost was a lot easier to swallow if we broke it down month-to-month. Yeah, you could fly across the country with the money spent on oil, but it wasn't too bad if we only had to fill it up once a year.
Cut to two months later: we're down to 1/8th of a tank.
There are some obvious heat-saving things to do: turn down the temperature on the thermostat, set up a timer so that the house is cooler when everyone is at work, etc. But, even with these measures, we were still burning through our oil at an alarming rate. And some rooms were just cold. Like, "sweater and fuzzy socks and a blanket and you're still shivering" cold. We knew we couldn't live like this, so we trekked out to the Home Depot one more time and went about fixing our house's heating problem.
Heat-Saver #1: Insulate your pipes. The pipes leading out of both the heater and the hot water container were brutally hot to the touch. This meant that heat was escaping out into our unfinished (and unheated) basement. Some of these pipes were right next to the cold water pipes. The amount of heat lost just in the journey from the heater to the baseboards was so intense that the heater pipes that lead to the den were actually cold to the touch (and - lo and behold - the den ended up being one of the coldest rooms in the house). We were shocked at the amount of pipes we had to insulate, and we were equally shocked at the amount of heat we were probably losing from these yards and yards of uninsulated piping.
Heat-Saver #2: Caulk your windows. Even when our heat was turned up, we were shocked by the "cold spots" in the house. After a fun game I'd like to call "Follow the Cold", we realized that cold air was essentially getting pumped into our rooms around the edges of the window sill. These cracks were almost invisible, but enough that we could actually feel the cold air moving past our hands.
Caulking is a tedious process, but a necessary one. These cracks are going to happen as a house settles into its foundation and expands/contracts with the weather. Just from doing the first two heat-saving actions, the den went from a second fridge to a pretty habitable room.
Heat-Saver #3: Close your doors. As much as I love my guest room (especially with the "new to the room" painted shelves, which is for a later time), it was easily the coldest room on the second floor. Even after caulking the windows, the room gets very little direct sunlight. And since the room is barely used by anyone except for the cats (and the occasional guest), it made no sense to heat up that room. The heaters are still on in that room, but, with the door closed, the heat for the rest of the house has fewer places to travel.
This also includes basement doors. Heat rises, so the basement will naturally be the coldest spot in the house. So remember to keep the door closed behind you when you enter and exit the basement.
Heat-Saver #4: Shrink-film your windows. You know that thing your grandparents do to with all their windows? It can look incredibly tacky, but it's a huge heat-saver. Since I still can't stop the "tacky thing grandparents do" mindset, we only used the shrink-film on windows that had shades that we could draw over said shrink-film. We also put the shrink-wrap on the metal parts of the window instead of the inside window frame, which makes it more inconspicuous (and saves the paint on the window frame. After my painting fiasco, I trust no adhesive!)
Heat-Saver #5: Be aware of passive solar heat. This simply means be aware of when the sun shines directly into your house. For example, the sun shines directly through the big window in my foyer, which warms up the stairwell and the second floor hallway. If you are typically at home during the day, being away of when the sun shines directly and when the sun doesn't can play a huge role in how warm your house gets. Opening the blinds when the sun shines in and closing them when they stop (and, to go back, shades/curtains/blinds can work as insulators as well if you really, really, really don't want to shrink-film your windows) can make a big impact.
Heat-Saver #6: Turn down the tempering valve on your hot water. If you're like me, you tend to turn the hot water on all the way, use said hot water until it hurts to use it, then turn it down to a better temperature. It makes no sense to use such brutally hot water just to wash a dish. Turning down the tempering valve so that the "max heat for hot water" is just slightly above comfortable (instead of "flesh-searing") means fewer instances when the water is needlessly heated up.
Heat-Saver #7: Finish your basement. The concept of an unfinished basement was foreign to me growing up, if only because everyone I knew had a finished basement (and, living in the south shore of Boston, where every house is a tiny cape, you need those extra rooms for standard living space). My husband and I desperately want to finish our basement someday, but that's a few thousand dollars we really don't have right now. However, we rest assured that finishing the basement won't just be for personal satisfaction: the extra insulation in the basement will really help keep the cold out. A cold basement can mean colder everything else -- especially if you don't close the basement door behind you (hey, remember that helpful hint?). The return on investment in terms of saving heat is pretty minimal, but it's something to keep in mind when trying to budget out potentially finishing your basement.
All I know is that I'm thankful that we're already well into January. It means (hopefully) only two or so more months before the temperatures get a little more hospitable.