Trim Your Winter Heating Bill

woman adjusting thermostatwoman adjusting thermostatBy Laurie Lee

Stay Warm and Save

Dropping temps mean higher heating bills, right? Not always. A few simple strategies can keep you and your family warm and toasty while keeping costs down. Photo by Getty Images.

If your heating bill is through the (uninsulated) roof, a home energy audit might be the answer. This professional consultation, which can be anything from a basic walk-through to using an infrared camera to identify heat loss zones, will leave you with a prioritized to-do list of areas to insulate or other ways to save thousands of dollars in the long run. The service can cost $500 and up, but some utility companies offer free or discounted audits, so call yours first to check. If your home's in pretty good shape, do your own "audit" to check for likely heat loss areas; find a guide at

Boost the View

Energy Star-rated windows are tops for holding in heat, but at $300 or more each, installing them may not be in the budget. Instead, add single-pane storm windows to trap air and reduce heat loss. For windows that don't need to open for a few months, try indoor window film, which you adhere to panes with a hair dryer and peel off at the end of the season.

COST $40 & up for storm windows; $20 & up for film

SAVINGS Up to $157 off your heating bill
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Use a Humidifier

You've heard it before-"It's not the heat, it's the humidity"-but did you know that the same goes for cold air? Adding moisture can make the air feel warmer, so you can turn down the thermostat and still be comfortable. Use a 1- to 2-gallon warm mist humidifier for an average-size living room or a tabletop version (less than ½ gallon) in smaller areas.

COST $40 & up for a humidifier

SAVINGS $10 off your bill for each degree you lower the temperature

Insulate Your Attic

Think of it as a down jacket for your home: You want fluffy layers of insulation to keep it warm. If not properly bundled up, the attic is a prime location for losing heat, when cold air seeps through the roof and then through the attic floor into the rooms below. Newer homes are likely up to current insulation standards, but if yours is older, check the attic to make sure insulation covers the floor (including any unfinished beams or boards) and is at least 7 inches thick (stick a ruler into it to check). If it's lacking, give it another layer. The two most common options: fiberglass batt-and-roll insulation and cellulose blow-in insulation (using a special blower that you can rent or purchase).

COST 75¢ to $3.50 per square foot to install insulation

SAVINGS Up to $100 to $150 per year for 1,200 square feet of ceiling
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Seal Air Leaks

Small gaps around windows and doors may seem insignificant, but if you tally up all the 1/8" cracks in the average home, you end up with the equivalent of a 6-inch-square hole in the wall where warm air can escape. Add weatherstripping between the door or window and its frame so you can block air movement but still open and close it. For stationary areas (around trim or cracks in a doorframe), use caulking material that will expand to fill the space. Other spots to look for sneaky air leaks are recessed lights, outlets and switches. Tackle these with caulk.

COST $3 & up for weatherstripping materials; about $5 for caulk

SAVINGS Up to $63 off your energy bill by blocking all air leaks

Be Thermostat-Smart

Don't waste money heating your home when you're not there. The EPA recommends keeping the thermostat below 70°F during the winter (down to 68°F for maximum savings), even when you're at home. Turn it down to 62 while you're sleeping or away, but no lower than 56 to avoid frozen pipes. If you have trouble remembering to change the temperature during the day, consider installing a digital programmable thermostat to automatically adjust your settings for day, evenings and bedtime.

COST Free (if you put on a sweater); $30 & up for a programmable thermostat

SAVINGS Up to $93 off your heating bill if you keep it set to 68°F
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Add Layers to Your Decor

Cover bare floors with rugs to create a barrier between your feet and the cold-conducting surfaces below, and throw a fleece or knit blanket onto sofas and armchairs where you might linger long enough for your body temperature to go down. Consider upgrading your window treatments, too: Thermal and quilted shades have layers of fabric that block cold air, and cellular shades create a pocket of air to insulate your windows.

COST Free (use rugs and blankets you own); $50 & up for insulated shades

SAVINGS $10 off your energy bill for each degree you lower the temperature

Original article appeared on

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