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How to Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter

Geoff Williams

For some parts of the country, warm weather still seems like a long way away, and it is: March 20 is the first official day of spring.

In the meantime, if keeping your home warm is making your heating bills look scary, here are some energy-saving strategies to consider, most of which don't involve a lot of front-end costs. And it's a good idea to try to whittle down your bill: According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs account for 56 percent of the energy use in an average American home.

Add blankets to the bed. For every 1 degree you set your thermostat back, you can save 1 to 3 percent on your annual heating costs, according to Joe Ruggiero, heating products manager at F.W. Webb, a wholesale heating and plumbing distributor headquartered in Bedford, Mass.

[Read: 6 Splurges You Should Make This Winter.]

So lower the temperature (nothing too crazy, of course) and pile on the blankets. The American Down and Feather Council would like to see everyone sleeping with feather-stuffed comforters, pillows and mattress toppers. That may not work for those who are allergic - despite some feather-based products being hypoallergenic - but assuming the council's marketing chair Brandon Palmer is right, sleeping with feathers will keep you nice and toasty: "Down is nature's best insulation," he says.

And the more natural down (soft, fine feathers, usually from a duck or goose) you have in a comforter, blanket or topper, the warmer you'll be, Palmer says.

Average cost you'll initially incur: None, if you already own a lot of blankets. A full or queen-size down and feather comforter typically retails between $100 and $500; a standard feather pillow, $25 to $325. In January, many stores have "white sales" with bedding at discounted prices.

Use your ceiling fan. Typically, consumers think of ceiling fans as a way to cool down, but they can also be utilized for heat, says Tom Breeden, vice president of engineering at Hunter Fan Company, based in Memphis, Tenn. He says if you set your ceiling fan to a low speed, letting it spin clockwise, the warm air trapped at the ceiling will mix with the cooler air and heat the entire room. Do this, and you might see a 15 percent savings on your heating bill for the entire house, according to Breeden.

Average cost you'll initially incur: None, if you already have a ceiling fan. If you don't, ceiling fans - at least the ones made by Hunter - start around $100 and go up from there, Breeden says.

Apply window film. If you're really set on reducing your heating bill and don't mind investing some money, you could have window film installed over your windows. You'll find the film in home improvement stores, and it's what it sounds like - a translucent film that goes over the window. It reflects the sun's heat during the summer, keeping the house cooler; in the winter, it can reduce heat loss through old windows by up to 40 percent, according to the International Window Film Association.

[Read: 10 Ways to Save on Energy Costs This Winter.]

Average cost you'll initially incur: The average cost to have window film professionally installed, assuming you have 3 x 5 windows, is $60 to $90 per window, says Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA. If you do it yourself, it can be considerably less expensive, of course - or much more, depending on the brand you buy. Window film isn't cheap, but if you're going to be living in your home for many years to come, your future self may thank you. The average payback, Smith says, depending on how many windows you have, ranges from two to five years.

Don't forget the basics. Jane Bugbee Lano, home energy solution program manager for the energy-efficiency initiative Energize Connecticut has a couple of ideas that can help anyone in any state: Close your curtains or drapes on winter nights, which will help keep heat inside the house. (If you have thick curtains or drapes, that's even better - but be sure to keep the curtains open during the day so the sunlight can come in and warm up the home.)

Also close the fireplace dampers, so air doesn't escape through the chimney, Lano recommends. And if you set your water heater at 120 degrees - "many are preset at 140 degrees," Lano says - you likely won't notice a difference, but it'll take less power to keep your water hot.

Here are some other easy-to-do strategies you might want to consider, courtesy of Katie Ross, education and development manager at American Consumer Credit Counseling: Make sure your heat vents, registers and radiators are free of obstructions, close doors to rooms you infrequently use and don't run the fan after a shower since that humidity will warm up the next room - at least for a while.

[See: 8 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements That Save Money.]

If you're going to be gone for the day, turn down the thermostat. (Most energy experts say it's a myth that it costs more to reheat a home than keep the house in a constant state of warmth.) And remember to clean out your heater's air filter. That's about as basic as it gets, but if you're a new homeowner or newly divorced and your ex used to do it, you may not realize this is a simple chore that can bring your heater to a complete stop if not done. An air filter generally costs between $4 and $15, usually depending on the size and brand; having a heating professional come out to tell you that you need to buy an air filter can cost around $100.

Average cost you'll initially incur: Not a dime.

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