Heading into cooler temperatures will have many homeowners boiling mad as they have to pay significantly more for heating this winter than last year.

Those using natural gas will be hit hardest. The average household could spend 48 percent or $350 more this winter. Heating oil is expected to increase 32 percent or $378 over last winter. Households heating primarily with propane will increase 30 percent or $325 this winter. The expected increase for those using electricity is only about 5 percent or $38.

Increases in the price of heating are being blamed on lack of supplies and damaged oil production and natural gas processing -- caused by the impact of hurricanes as well as the already tight petroleum and natural gas markets.

The government predicts that many people are going to need assistance to pay for their heating bills this season. However, there are some things you can do to help keep heating costs down.

  1. Always make sure your damper is closed when not using the fireplace. Heat escapes through the chimney when the damper is open.
  2. When leaving the house and before going to bed adjust the thermostat to five degrees lower; this can save up to 15 percent on heating costs
  3. Keep your central heating system running properly by having it checked regularly.
  4. Caulk around windows, doors, vents, air-conditioning units, pipes, anywhere that hot air can be let out and cold air let in. This is an inexpensive step and could save you 10 percent in heating costs.
  5. Invest in window coverings. Close curtains, blind or shutters at night to help keep cold air out.
  6. Replace or clean your natural gas furnace filter every three months
  7. Make sure all of your heating vents are open, working properly and not blocked by furniture or other items
  8. Use a programmable thermostat so that you don't have to remember to adjust it manually. Set the temperature lower or off when you are away or sleeping.
  9. Heating water is about a quarter of a residential natural gas bill. To keep costs down, use a water heater blanket to wrap your water heater and save up to 10 percent.
  10. Wash clothes in cold water or wash in warm water and rinse in cold.
  11. Consider replacing your furnace if it's 10 or more years old. Generally, a 10-year old furnace is only about 55 percent efficient. Look for the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating; it tells the percentage of energy that is converted to useable heat; some furnaces are 96 percent or more efficient.
  12. Attics can be a huge source of heat loss; up to 45 percent of your home heat can escape through the attic. Make sure there is sufficient insulation between the attic floor and your ceiling. Most experts recommend at least nine inches.
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