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Stay Warmer and Richer With These 6 Winterizing Tips

Posted: 11/03/11 06:13 PM ET

The U.S. Department of Energy released their 2011 yearly estimates of heating costs around the country, and not surprisingly, the numbers were higher than years past.

Those who heat their homes with natural gas can expect to spend an average of 3 percent (or $19) more this winter. Households using heating oil will see an 8 percent price increases (about $193) this year. And those heating their homes with electricity or propane should see price hikes of 5 percent and 1 percent this year, respectively.

While these increases are far from backbreaking, they're certainly an unwelcome addition to the whopping $370 to $1,040 the average American is already paying to heat their home every year.

A yearly utility bill like that can certainly take a toll on your wallet. But with a little ingenuity and some inexpensive accessories, nearly anyone can learn how to save money on heating bills.

Here are six changes you can make today to start saving money.

1) Keep Out the Elements

Look at any gaps around your doors or windows to see if you have any exposure to the elements. If you can't see a hole or feel a breeze, that's good, but it doesn't mean you're home free. A good way to tell if you have a draft that you might not perceive is to hold up a candle and watch to see if the flame moves.

Use door sweeps, weather striping, window insulation and caulk to seal doors and windows and keep cold drafts out and precious heat in. Outlet gaskets can also be installed to electrical outlets to seal them if cold air is coming through.

It might seem a no-brainer, but it is important to close your fireplace damper after you finish using it. The fireplace is an easy location for heat to escape; closing it is essential for a properly winterized home.

Simply blocking areas that leak in your house can cut heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent. For the average home that heats with heating oil, the savings can amount to almost $500 this winter.

2) Time for a Furnace Tune Up

An easy fix that can save a fortune in repairs is keeping your furnace filter clean. A dirty filter restricts airflow, which can clog a furnace and lead to costly repairs.

Energy Star recommends replacing your filter at least every three months to keep your furnace running efficiently, which saves you money in the long-term.

After you've made sure that the filter is operating efficiently, the next step is to check that the rest of the heating unit is operating properly. A do-it-yourselfer can follow this checklist offered by Energy Star or hire a professional to inspect it.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), maintaining your heating unit can save you between 3% and 10% on heating bills. That could save the average household up to $75 this winter.

3) Check Your Ducts

After making sure the furnace is in top shape, check to see that the ducts carrying heat from the furnace are in good working order. It is not uncommon for 15 percent to 20 percent of heated/cooled air to escape from ducts.

Follow the path of the ducts to insure there are no gaps or holes in the ductwork. Seal any gaps with foil tape or duct sealant then wrap the ducts with insulation. Start in the attic and follow ducts through unheated areas like the garage, crawl space or basement. Sealing up any gaps in your ducts can save you up to 20 percent.

4) Run Ceiling Fans in Reverse

Hot air rises, but there is a way to re-circulate the hot air back downwards.

Running your ceiling fans in reverse doesn't produce the same cool downward draft that feels good in the summer, but instead pushes air upward forcing warmer air against the ceiling and back down toward your family.

Just reverse the motor so that your ceiling fan spins clockwise, and voila -- instant heat! Double down on your energy savings by cranking down your thermostat.

5) Install Storm Windows and Screen Doors

If you don't already have them around your house, you can increase insulation and seal drafts by installing storm windows and screen doors. Storm windows can be well worth the time spent on installation, as they can help shield against cold drafty winds and increase energy efficiency by up to 45 percent.

Not sure if you need the extra insulation? Here's a free and quick way to check: Open an exterior door and place a piece of paper on the floor (half outside, half inside). Close the door and try to pull the paper out. If the paper doesn't tear, you're losing air.

6) Mind that Thermostat

Keeping an eye on the thermostat can pay out big when the bills roll in. According to ACEEE, for every degree you turn down the thermostat during the winter, you can save about 2 percent on your heating bill.

Newer thermometers can even be pre-set to change the temperature throughout the day. Programming it to turn the heat down while you're at work or asleep (and won't really notice the difference) can save an estimated $180 per year.

The Investing Answer: The cost of weatherproofing your home pales in comparison to the money you will spend on heating bills or repairs after something breaks. Completing the work on your own has the biggest bang for your buck. For more quick ways to cut down on your home costs, check out 11 Simple Ways to Save on Utilities.

- By Brian Reed, www.investinganswers.com