Watch the thermostat: Lower your home heating costs this winter

The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts increases of more than 40 percent for some households, compared with last year. Those who use heating oil and propane can expect to see a 25 percent rise, while natural gas users will get a 44 percent hike. (Prices for electric heating are expected to remain stable). Midwesterners' bills averaged $540 last winter for natural gas heating but can expect to pay about $780 this year, according to the Energy Information Administration. And in the Northeast, oil bills will approach $950 on average for the season, compared with $760 the previous year.

Stay warm -- and save money -- by knowing why prices go up and then following our tips for cutting costs.

  • Keep up furnace maintenance. Get a professional tune-up annually, and clean or replace air filters once a month.

  • Get good insulation to keep the heat indoors. Seal doors with weather stripping and use caulking for crevices between the window frame and the wall.

  • Let the sunshine in. Keeping blinds and curtains open during the day will raise the temperature of the house, while closing the blinds and curtains at night will help keep the heat in.

  • Get a modern thermostat. The new programmable thermostats coordinate your home temperature with your daily routine. You can lower the thermostat at night while you sleep, then raise the heat when you get up. It can also regulate your home while you're at the office.

  • Seal up leaky ducts, holes and cracks. If you use duct tape to make the repairs, buy a brand with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo, which is less apt to fall apart with age. In the basement, however, insulated ducts will make the basement colder, so keep that in mind if your basement is used for more than storage. Installing both supply and return registers in basement living areas will help keep the rooms heated.

  • Get professional help. Turn to the pros for help with insulating and repairing ducts, especially those that are hard to reach. Call your local Better Business Bureau and get references before hiring a contractor.

  • Forget about the cozy fireplace. A roaring fire pulls heated air out of your home and sends it right up the chimney. Seal up the flue, and always keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use.

Call the Department of Energy at 1-800-363-3732 (DOE-3732) for a copy of Energy Savers:Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home. The Alliance to Save Energy also offers an online interactive home checkup.


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