A little savvy can go a long way toward reducing heating bills. Here are a few cheap and easy fixes that can help keep homes warm while saving energy.

Share story

As winter wears on, a few cheap and easy fixes can help keep homes warm while saving energy and money.

The average household spends about $2,000 a year on utilities, almost half of which goes toward heating and cooling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Luckily, a little savvy can go a long way toward reducing heating bills. Five ideas from the energy experts:

1. Think clean, clear and efficient

“Check your furnace filter on a monthly basis. If it’s dirty, it won’t function as efficiently as it could,” says Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA recommends cleaning or replacing furnace filters every three months.

And Bob McGee, a spokesman for the Con Edison utility company, says, “Make sure someone comes in to tune up the heating system once a year. Service contracts are always a good idea.”

If you’re in the market for a new furnace, opt for an Energy Star-certified model. Some upgrades can reduce heating costs by as much as 30 percent, McGee says.

“And remember to make sure the heating vents aren’t blocked and that everything’s cleared out of the way, otherwise you’ll be heating your drapes or the back of your furniture instead of the room,” Urbanek says.

2. Get with the program

Consider investing in a programmable thermostat to maximize energy efficiency. “We recommend keeping it set to between 68 and 72 degrees when people are home, and then down to between 55 and 65 when no one is home and at night,” Urbanek says.

The EPA says the thermostat should be set to 8 degrees lower than normal at night and when no one’s home.

Some utility companies provide programmable thermostats for free or offer rebates, so it’s worth calling your energy provider before heading to the hardware store.

“It’s always a good idea to check our website for existing rebates and promotions, and also call to see what rebates or promotions might be coming up,” McGee says.

Even without special offers, most programmable thermostats are less than $100, Urbanek says, and will save you an estimated $180 a year on energy costs. “A programmable thermostat can cut consumption by 20 to 30 percent,” she says.

3. Put windows and fans to work

“Make sure your curtains are open when the sun is out and closed when it’s dark and cold outside,” Urbanek says. “And remember that warm air rises, so if you have a ceiling fan, keeping it on low with the blade direction reversed (moving clockwise) will gently bring the warm air back down.”

4. Seal and insulate

If you’re doing all that and your bills are still high, the Natural Resources Defense Council recommends checking for air leaks in your home and duct systems. “Things like caulking and window stripping are really easy to do,” Urbanek says.

“A lot of people automatically assume that if your house is drafty or cold you need new windows. It’s sometimes true. But in a lot of cases, that might not be the most cost-effective way of keeping warm for less,” she says. “Air sealing and insulation often gives you way more bang for your buck in terms of savings.”

The average household can cut its heating and cooling costs by around $200 per year by following Energy Star’s sealing and insulation guidance (energystar.gov) and using Energy Star-certified appliances, according to the EPA.

5. Consider an energy audit

Many energy companies help customers get professional energy audits of their homes or offer lists of energy audit providers, and some utilities offer financial incentives to have audits done. A professional can pinpoint improvements that can translate into greater energy efficiency and savings, McGee says.