Preparing for Winter

Get ready for snow in the forecast. After last year's mild winter, meteorologists are predicting a return to "normal" weather - a lot colder. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, discusses how to prepare for what that'll mean for your bills.

All those extra days of turning on - and turning up - the heat could add up. Depending on where you live and what fuel you use to heat your home, expect to pay 1% to 20% more. In some cases, that's up to $500 more than last year. Make sure that you're putting aside a little extra to help cover that cost.

A heating system that doesn't produce enough warm air, or loses much of it to leaks, can tack up to 20% onto your bill. Hiring an HVAC inspector for $50 to $100 to look over your system pays for itself in energy savings. While you're at it, clean the furnace filters of dust and debris that can impede air flow.

More maintenance: Drain the home's hot water heater to remove sediment that builds up, making the appliance less efficient. Otherwise, you're using the same amount of energy to heat less water. A cheap $20 insulation jacket for your hot water heater can also keep it from working overtime to keep standing water warm.

It's not too late to shop around for deals on fuel. The government is predicting prices that are roughly flat compared with last year, but providers' rates largely depend on when they purchase their fuel supply. Calling around or joining cooperative buying groups that locked in prices months ago could yield a better deal.

Set your thermostat just one degree cooler for an eight-hour period each day during the winter heating season, and cut your bill by up to 5%. A bigger drop of 10 to 15 degrees while you're out at work and asleep can knock off up to 15%. Plus, we're seeing lots of smartphone controlled apps that can make sure the house is toasty by the time you get home.

For more information on saving money on your heating bill and other consumer tips click here.

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