With energy prices on the rise and many families struggling through a tough economy, paying your home’s heating bills can sometimes be a painful task. The good news is that there are many simple steps families can take to reduce the cost of heating their home. Not only will it save you some cash, but it’s better for the environment too. With that in mind, try implementing as many of these tips as are practical for your family:

Turn off exhaust fans to conserve energy
Kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans can drain your house of heated air in one hour, according to Gordon Holness, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Their sole purpose is to pump air from inside the house outside. So don’t leave them on any longer than necessary. Some families even choose to disable them completely. Just do this properly by unscrewing the plate for the switch and disconnecting the wire. Damaging the fans will lower the value of your house.

Seal those windows and doors
Make sure you keep all windows locked. Not only is this important for family safety, but doing so pushes the window into the track and squeezes it tight, thus sealing it better and limiting drafts. Also consider placing a rolled-up towel at the base of windows and doors. If you’re really ambitious you can install cheap hooks above the windows and drape blankets over the entire window, further insulating them and keeping heat from escaping.

Heat intelligently with a programmable thermostat
Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t already have one. They may cost $35 to $100, and perhaps another hundred for an installation fee, but a properly set programmable thermostat can save $180/year . . . well worth the initial investment.

Get your heater a coat
A precut insulation jacket for your water heater can cost less than $20, and will pay for itself in no time at all, according to experts. Since water heaters keep the tank heated all the time, merely awaiting use, the more you keep that heat from escaping, the less work the heater has to do in constantly producing hot water that you mayor may not be using.

Lower your water temp
Crank your water-heater settings down. One heating expert estimates that 95% of the homes his installers visit have the water heater set too high. A setting of 120 degrees, or “warm” on many heaters, is usually sufficient.

Mind the small things
Small openings around dryer vents and garden faucets can allow cold air to seep into your home all winter long. Use inexpensive sealing putty, which resembles Playdoh, to seal small openings. It works indoors and out, and stays in place for decades. Prevent cold air from entering your home via electrical outlets by unscrewing the cover plates and installing inexpensive foam pads that fit snuggly around the back. Covering open outlets with baby-proofing plugs can block even more air, not to mention keep your little ones safe.

Don’t heat the nether-regions
Close closet doors and any other similar nooks and crannies so that you’re not spending money heating the places you rarely use.

Rough it
Set your thermostat down 5 or 10 degrees and then get out the blankets. If you’re serious about saving money, this can make a tremendous difference. Blankets are free to heat yourself with, and while it may be a little chilly inside, it won’t be freezing cold. There’s a big difference in the energy used to maintain a house at 60 degrees versus 70 degrees. Many families who try this even find they like it better. It makes little boosts like snuggling in a blanket or sipping a cup of hot chocolate more enjoyable. Plus, doctors say the colder atmosphere is more conducive to sound sleep. Even doing this just a few days a week can knock some cost off your energy bills if you don’t want to give up your cozy house completely.

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