Winter in the Darling Downs and South West Queensland can be tough, with temperatures that drop below zero and windy weather that can chill you to the bone. Keeping warm during the cold dark months of winter is vital for our health and wellbeing. However, it's not always easy and winter is the time when we spend more time indoors and turn up our heating, increasing our energy bills and impacting our environment.

We all need to keep warm and we all want to save on our energy bills, but for those who are struggling to simply buy food and pay the rent, it is important to keep warm without breaking the budget or taking unnecessary health and safety risks. We've compiled our top ten tips to keep warm, save energy and minimise your risk during winter.

1. Rug up and dress for the season.

One of the easiest ways to save money in winter is to turn down the heater and put on some warmer clothes. This doesn't mean dressing for the Antarctic—it means putting on a jumper before you crank up the temperature. This can be a real money saver, given that each additional degree you heat your home can add between 5% and 10% to your energy use. While you're at it, dress your bed for the season too by putting on an additional blanket or two, or if you don't have extra blankets try using a warm coat or jumper on the bed.

2. Set it.

Around 40% of home energy use goes on heating and/or cooling, so to save money it's vital to control your climate. It might seem easy to simply crank up the heater, looking to create a toasty environment for the family. However, before turning up the heat try putting on a jumper and warm clothing first. Then if you need to turn on the heat, try setting the temperature around 20ºC in winter, a comfortable temperature for most people. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat on your heater, place a thermometer in your living area to keep an eye on the temperature.

3. Seal it.

In many homes, if you added up all the cracks and gaps, it would be the equivalent of having a 1 metre x 1.5 metre window open all the time. Gaps and cracks can account for 15% - 25% of heat loss in your home, so seal up all of the gaps and cracks you can. If your budget can't stretch to include weather stripping or you can't make modifications to your rented home, try using a door snake, rolled-up sheets, blankets and towels. Don't forget to shut the door to areas you aren't using (like bathrooms and the laundry) and only heat the rooms you're using.

4. Let it shine.

Sunlight is mostly ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which passes easily through glass. When it enters a room and hits an object the sunlight becomes infrared (IR) radiation or radiant heat. This doesn’t travel through glass as readily as UV radiation, so your room warms up. To make the most of all this free energy it’s a great idea to open up your blinds and curtains during the day, especially North facing (for the morning sun) and West facing (for the afternoon sun). You might want to leave South facing windows shuttered on especially cold days however, as these don’t capture much sunlight. Sunlight is also a great way to dry your clothes, hanging them outside instead of using the dryer will save heaps of energy and reduce your power bill.

5. Cover up.

Up to 40% of the heat escaping from your home in winter is from uncovered windows! Heavy, lined curtains that extend below the window frame will insulate your windows and help keep the warmth in. If you can't afford new curtains or are unable to make your own, try using spare sheets or blankets to cover the windows in the afternoon. A great way to keep the heat where you want it is to keep the doors to your living space closed. If your heating system allows it, turn it off in empty rooms.

6. Change your focus.

Instead of heating your whole home, focus on people instead. It is easier and cheaper to warm your own body than heat every room. Do some quick high-energy exercises, dress in warm clothes and close the doors to rooms you aren’t using, such as laundries and bathrooms.

7. Check the temp.

Heating water accounts for about 25% of household energy use, so it is important to get the temperature right. The recommended setting for thermostats is 60°C for storage hot water systems and no more than 50°C on instantaneous systems. Changing the temperature on your hot water system may not be as straight forward as you think, so it is important to consult your user manual or a professional if you are not sure how to do it. If you're in a rental, you may be required to pay for damages so it may be worthwhile asking permission before making changes.

8. Switch off.

Your household appliances are chewing up energy and account for up to 30% of household energy use. A great way to minimise cost, increase your energy efficiency and prolong the life of your appliances is to switch them off when you're not using them. Many appliances use power when left on, even if not in use. This can account for 3% of household electricity consumption: most can be switched off at the power point instead. Also, try to switch the way you use your appliances, for instance, switch from warm to cold water when you wash. Washing clothes with cold water can save up to 10 times more energy than a warm wash. Make sure you don't switch off fridges, freezers, security and medical equipment.

9. Keep it clean.

Getting your heater serviced professionally at least every two years will keep it running more efficiently and ensure that it is safe for use. Try to clean your heating equipment by keeping heaters free of dust and cleaning any filters regularly. Also, turn off your heaters before going to bed and when you're leaving the house—it's cheaper and it's safer too. Avoid naked flames inside the house unless they are contained in a compliant fireplace, many homes and lives are lost each year due to accidental fire.

10. Get active.

One of the best ways to stay warm as well as physically and mentally healthy during winter is to get active. Whatever the season, it can make good sense to walk instead of using your car for short journeys: you’ll save on petrol, maintenance and the upfront cost of buying a car (or a second car). Swapping car trips for walking or cycling is a great way to save money and keep fit during the winter months. Also, try adding in regular exercise by maintaining your yard or taking the dog for a walk.

Bonus tip...

Try to get warm before the sun goes down, as the temperature will drop off dramatically after the sunset. If it’s cold outside and you are cold going to bed, you’re not going to be able to warm yourself up. Do what it takes to get warm before you get under your blankets or into the sleeping bag. If you need to, do some low-intensity exercise and rug up in warm clothing. Once you've layered up, make sure all of the doors, windows, gaps and cracks in your home are sealed up before sundown.

You can download a printable version of these tips here LLDD_Energy_Saving_Tips_Poster_PR.pdf

Remember, we're all in this together. If you're struggling and need support, reach out, call Lifeline Darling Downs and South West Qld Ltd toll-free on 1800 951 052. Also, if you or someone you care for is in need of support you can contact call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or chat to a crisis supporter via text Lifeline on 0477 13 11 14 (6pm – midnight AEDT) or online at lifeline.org.au (7pm – midnight AEDT).