The weather outside might be frightful, but the heating bill doesn't have to be

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Old man frost has definitely reared his head this winter. The first day of winter didn’t officially begin until Dec. 21; however, many areas of the country experienced unusually cold weather conditions long before. As the temperature drops, gas bills increases.

Heating costs are affected by numerous factors, including the quality of insulation, the size of the home, and the availability of direct sunlight. The good news is that with a few simple steps, you can bring your energy costs into a more manageable range. The experts at Money Management International offer the following energy-saving tips that are good for the environment and your pocketbook.

Lower the thermostat. The most important thing you can do is to set the thermostat as low as is comfortable. Every degree you lower the thermostat reduces your heating costs by 3 percent or more. A programmable thermostat can help by adjusting the temperature according to a set schedule, and can help save on energy while your family isn’t home. Also, utilize your winter wardrobe by wearing warmer clothing.

Perform simple maintenance. Replace the filters in your heating units regularly. Clogged filters break down the efficiency of the heating unit, which means it takes more energy to keep your home warm.

Stop the leaks. Run your hand around the outer edges of doors and windows. If you feel a draft, there’s a good chance that your seals have a leak, and you are wasting money with windows or doors that are not airtight. It only costs a few dollars and a trip to the hardware store to seal those leaks, and it’s a project that more than pays for itself. Installing storm windows can also cut your heat loss in half.

Take a whole-house approach. Don’t forget to practice good overall energy conservation. For example, turn the lights off when you leave a room and close the fireplace damper when not in use. Keep traffic in and out of the house to a minimum. The more you open the doors, the more heat escapes into the cold air outside.

Call in the experts. Many utility companies will send an energy expert to your home for a free energy check. They look for the little nooks and crannies where your energy dollars may be escaping.

This holiday season, you might also consider donating to an organization that helps low-income families afford their home energy expenses. To locate a local organization, visit