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By Kathy Chu USA TODAY

The cost of heating a home will average $1,044 this season, up 33% from last winter— due partly to hurricane damage to oil and natural gas supply lines.

But a little preparation can prevent your money from going out the window along with the heat. Cutting down on energy costs can be as simple as

sealing windows.



Worried you'll have to wrap yourself in blankets to save money? Not so. "We encourage people to be thrifty, but we don't encourage people to be miserable," says Bill Prindle of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "There are a lot of energy-efficient measures that actually improve comfort."

Some suggestions:

Brrracing for winter

In anticipation of sharply higher winter heating bills, the time to weatherproof your house is now



Average winter heating costs






$0 ’99-’00







Source: Department of Energy

1 – Projected

By Sam Ward, USA TOD

will rise and leave from the top of the house, Callahan says.

Was your home built before 1980? You likely need more insulation, according to the Energy Department. Only 20% of homes built before then are well-insulated, the agency estimates.

To figure out how much insulation your home needs, go to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, a government clearinghouse for information, at www.eere.energy.gov.

Get a programmable thermostat. It will let you set the time the heat will turn on and at what temperature it will kick off.

The device could pay for itself after a few months. Rather than keep the heat at its usual temperature all day, you could set it to rise to your preferred level half an hour before you get home from work.

Clean the filter on your furnace regularly. This will allow air to circulate through the house and warm it up faster.

Seal air leaks. You can find these culprits on windy days by holding a stick of incense near windows, doors or anywhere else you suspect air might be escaping.

If the smoke drifts sideways instead of its normal path upward, you know air is coming in, says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. That means heat can go out.

Clear any objects from heating vents and radiators. Furniture and carpeting on or near vents can block the flow of heat through the house. You'd have to use more energy to keep warm.

Consider a balanced payment plan to ease the immediate pain of high energy prices this winter. Most utility companies offer these plans for everyone, to average out the highs and lows of energy bills. They review your energy use and current fuel prices to come up with a consistent monthly payment.

Caulk or weather stripping will plug the leak. You can also install double-pane windows to keep heat inside the house.

At Con Edison in the New York City area, if you pay for more energy on the level plan than you actually used in 12 months, you'll get money back.

Consider adding fiberglass, wool or foam insulation to your ceilings, walls and floors. This will make it harder for heat to escape. Attics are especially important to insulate, because heat

Pacific Gas and Electric, which serves northern and central California, might adjust your balanced payment amount periodically based on your energy use.

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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