According to the Energy Information Administration, home heating costs may rise as much as 10% this winter. Kelli Grant, Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, has some tips for keeping warm and still staying within your budget.
Regardless of the type of heating system you have, it needs an annual checkup by a professional. A system that's dirty or poorly maintained works less efficiently over time, meaning you'll pay progressively more to stay just as warm. "You can keep up the maintenance yourself too, just by cleaning or changing the filters yourself too on a monthly basis," says Grant.
You could also try upgrading your thermostat. The EPA estimates that actually using your programmable thermostat to scale back heat while you're away or asleep can cut your energy bill by 10%. If you can't figure out how to program yours, consider a new Energy Star model. "[They] come pre-programmed - very easy to use," says Grant. You'll recoup the costs within a single winter.
Also, don't ignore those cold drafts. A lot of little leaks around door and window frames, pipes and electrical outlets, can add up to one big bill. "Experts estimate that it's the equivalent of keeping one window open all winter," says Grant. Plug up these leaks with inexpensive caulk or weather stripping, and you'll start saving immediately.
Also, try shopping for a fuel supplier. Spending less isn't all about how you use energy, it's also about who you buy it from. Shopping around can save you as much as 20%. "It's something consumers don't realize that they can do," says Grant. Consumers using home heating oil or propane of course have a choice of which company fills their tank. But consumers in 18 states have a choice of energy suppliers for electricity and natural gas as well.
While you're shopping around, consider upgrading your appliances. If you have home-heating appliances that date back to the Reagan administration or earlier, it could be time to think about an upgrade. Replacing an outdated model with one that has earned the Energy Star label could cut your home-heating costs significantly. "A new Energy Star furnace, for example, has to be at least 15% more efficient than other models out there," says Grant.
For more information on saving money on home heating costs, or other personal financial advice, click here.
By Kelli Grant
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.