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10 steps to lowering your home heating bills

With energy prices rising, it's important to make your home more fuel efficient. "Today" home contributor Lou Manfredini offers some advice.
/ Source: TODAY

As we head into the thick of fighting the winter chill, the bad news is that energy costs have risen up to 70 percent in some areas. The good news, however, is that there are steps you can take to lower your bills but still stay warm and cozy. Do-it-yourself expert and “Today” contributor Lou Manfredini was invited to appear on the show to explain how. Here are his tips.

1. Service your heating system every year. It's the best money you'll spend. Cost for a typical service call to clean the unit and change filters in both the furnace and humidifier? An average of $75-$100, depending on where you live. Also if you are considering replacing your heating system buy the highest efficiency unit you can. The payback for the increased cost can be re-cooped in as little as three years and then the savings keep coming. Once cleaned you need to change the filters regularly. I recommend that you upgrade to a pleated filter which will do a better job of trapping airborne particulates than the cheaper spun fiberglass one.

2. Install a programmable thermostat. A must. There are many different brands on the market that range in price from $40-$100. You can program it to lower the temperature while you're at work or sleeping and save up to 30 percent in a well-insulated home. What's more, outdated thermostats are the weakest link in conserving energy. According to the government's Energy Information Administration, only about 15 percent of U.S. homes are equipped with modern programmable thermostats. Honeywell®, a leader in control technology, estimates that homeowners can receive one to three months of free heating and cooling by installing a programmable thermostat. So, what are you waiting for? 3. Add weather stripping around windows and doors. A project that any homeowner can do. This also has a real impact on drafts and conserving energy. Door thresholds, window caulking, and plastic window film can go a long way in saving your money this winter. If you live in a drafty home, you could save up to 20 percent with an investment of as little as $25. 4. Utilize or install ceiling fans in your home. Remember learning that heat rises in physics class? Well, running the fans slowly and in reverse will keep that warm air circulating and keep you more comfortable. The bonus? The time your furnace runs will reduce. So will your monthly bill. The Reiker Room Conditioner has an integrated heater in it to take the chill out of a room with the added safety of the unit being suspended from the ceiling.  The cost is around $399. (For more information you can visit: Check the arrangement of your furniture. Really. Many times people put couches and chairs over vents and in front of baseboard radiators, decreasing the efficiency of the units. By restricting the airflow, you increase the use of your furnace or boiler, and ultimately the energy used to heat your home.

6. Wrap your water heater or consider installing a tankless water heater. More than 20 percent of a tanked water heater’s energy is used while it is on “standby,” keeping the water hot for the next use. Adding a blanket of insulation around the water heater can help reduce its standby energy use. And it only takes about $20 and 20 minuets to install one. Tankless water heaters have been around for over 75 years, almost all of Europe heats their water with these units. They create hot water on demand so there's no stored water needing to be continuously heated. (Think about when you're away or asleep.) And once they are on, 10 people can take a shower in a row and never run out of hot water. Cost? Around $350-$500 (depending on the unit) more than a standard heater, but you'll recoup the cost increase in just two years ( Some of these units qualify under the new energy bill that took effect January 1, 2006 and you may qualify for a tax credit of up to $300.

7. Be smart about the temperature you set in your home. According to the EPA, you'll save up to 3 percent on your energy bills simply by turning down your thermostat just one degree. If you have a colder room in your home it's cheaper to use a small, portable safe electric heater to get the chill out rather than turning up the thermostat for the entire home.  Make sure you use these heaters at least three feet from any combustible item and do not plug them into an extension cord. Also make sure the heater you use is in good condition and has a UL listing.8. Install thermo-pane windows in your home. You'll increase your home's energy efficiency up to 70 percent. Multi-pane windows can have R-values of as high as 9.1. The higher the R-value, the more resistant the glass is to losing heat. Conversely, your typical single pane glass has an R-value of 1. 9. Make sure your ceilings and attics are properly insulated. Heat rises, and if there isn't enough insulation in the space above, your money is going through the roof. Literally. Most ceilings and attic spaces should have at least an R-30 rating, although some areas of the country recommend an R-40-50 rating. 10. Let the sun be your guide. Why not? It's free energy. During the day, open up those drapes and blinds and let that sun heat your home. At night draw the curtains to keep the heat inside.

Bonus tip:
Light bulbs. Replace the five most used light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent bulbs and save up to $60 a year on your electric bill.

If you need more advice on how to save money on your energy bills, e-mail Lou Manfredini at