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Simple Steps for Reducing Your High Heating Bills

If the last couple weeks are any indication of what is to come, we may be in for a long, cold winter. Call it payback for last year's mild season.

The combination of the cold and a $3.67 per gallon average heating oil price here in Maine (as of December 3) could make it a long, expensive winter as well. Efficiency Maine offers a program that allows you to get a free home energy assessment from a participating energy advisor. Should the advisor identify any potential problems, Efficiency Maine offers up to $600 off home weatherization projects completed by an approved contractor. You can find more details here.

There are also a number of small things you can do to make a big difference in reducing your heating costs. For starters, here are two easy, no-cost solutions you can implement today:

o Setting your thermostat at 55 degrees when no one is at home is a great first step. While there's no definitive answer about the best temperature for sleeping, most studies agree that it's between 60 and 68 degrees. So set your thermostat for 60 overnight for even greater savings.

o Curtains, blinds and other window treatments can help as well. Open them during the day on windows facing the sun to let its warmth in. When the sun goes down (much too early in winter, it seems) or when the sun is nowhere to be found, close them to keep heat inside.

These next solutions come with a relatively low to moderate price tag, and you can even do most of them yourself. If that's the route you choose, you'll probably want to consult this handy DIY guide, courtesy of ENERGY STAR.

o Sealing leaks in your heating ducts can save up to 20 percent in heating costs, according to Efficiency Maine. If you're the handy type (or know someone who is), this can be a do-it-yourself project using mastic sealant or metal tape. Despite its name, never use duct tape because it's not very long-lasting.

o You can prevent cold from entering - and heat from escaping - through windows and doors by caulking and weather-stripping to seal air leaks. There are also several window films kits available that make it easy to cover your windows with clear plastic sheeting to stop drafts.

o Installing simple, easy-to-use foam gaskets on your electrical outlets and switch boxes will also prevent heat from escaping.

o If your heating system uses hot water pipes, insulate them to prevent heat loss and make your heating system more efficient (i.e., less expensive to operate).

o Have your furnace and/or boiler cleaned and serviced by a qualified professional. This should be done every year, and will significantly improve the efficiency, lifespan and safety of your heating system.

o Properly insulating your ceilings, walls, floors and attic can cut heating costs up to 25 percent. Depending on your level of skill, you can do this yourself or hire someone to do it. Keep in mind that fiberglass insulation can be very, very itchy and cause serious injuries if you don't wear protective gear.

If you haven't already, tackle as many of these tasks as possible. Whatever time and money you put into weatherizing your home will be well worth it when you see a reduction in your heating bills. And who doesn't love to save money?

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