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Five Keys to Cutting Your Home Heating Costs

Learn how to save money during the winter months, with tips and advice like getting an energy audit.

Like any good cheapskate, I hate turning on the furnace until the dead of winter. The other morning, my long-suffering wife came running back to bed and complained: "Jeff, we need to turn on the furnace! It's so cold in the kitchen that I can see my breath!"

See also: AARP is fighting to keep utilities affordable.

"Great," I said. "It's cold enough in there now that I can unplug the refrigerator and save even more."

She was not amused.

OK, so I'm an extreme case. But here are some simple things you can do to stay warm this winter and save some cold cash at the same time:

  • An audit you should welcome. Saving on home heating costs starts with an energy audit of your home. This will show you exactly how you can save the most—from increasing insulation and sealing cracks to replacing inefficient equipment. Many utility companies offer home energy audits for free, or you can contact your state or local government's energy department for a list of contractors who perform audits. You can also complete an online self-assessment by going to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Home Advisor Web site at www.energystar.gov/homeadvisor. Just type in your ZIP code and some information about your house, and you'll receive a customized list of ways to save up to 25 percent on home energy costs.
a hot water bottle in a bed

— Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

  • Maintenance is worth the investment. Keeping your heating equipment clean and properly adjusted can save you at least 5 percent on winter heating costs, so it's well worth the nominal cost of paying for an annual tune-up. Remember to change or clean your furnace filters once a month during heating season for maximum efficiency. If you have forced-air heating, don't forget to clean and check your ductwork for leaks. Leaky ducts siphon off warm air before it ever reaches the living space. When it's time to replace your furnace and other appliances, consider replacements that are Energy Star-certified—they'll save you 15 to 20 percent in annual operating costs, and you may be eligible for an energy tax credit when you file with Uncle Sam.
  • Shut your front door during the winter. Sure, you're smart enough to know that. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, many homes lose heat through gaps around windows and doors. These gaps, along with poor and inadequate amounts of insulation, can easily amount to a greater heat loss than if you left the front door open all winter long. Fill gaps and cracks around the windows and doors with caulking, and use inexpensive, plastic window-insulation kits to minimize heat loss through older windows. And oh, yeah, remember to shut your front door.
  • Heat yourself. On cold winter nights back home in Ohio, my grandfather would drink a shot glass full of Tabasco sauce every night before he went to bed. He claimed it kept him warm all night and allowed him to keep the thermostat set on low."I don't know if that works — or if my stomach could handle it — but there's a lot to be said for heating yourself and the specific space you're in rather than heating the entire house. Around the house, sweaters, long johns, wool socks and stocking caps are today's fashion apparel. An electric blanket on your bed or a heating cushion in your easy chair will let you turn down the thermostat, as well as save big money and stay comfortable at the same time. Instead of Tabasco sauce, try a short workout before you hit the sack. It'll warm you up and make you sleep better … all without heartburn.
  • And speaking of turning down the thermostat…That's not what my poor wife wants to hear. By installing a programmable thermostat that turns down the heat when you're not home,you could save an average of $150 per year. That's not bad, consideringthose thermostats cost around $50.

Remember, for every degree lower that you set your thermostat, you could save about 1 to 3 percent on your heating bill. For that kind of savings, honey, I'll keep you warm at night.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.

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