North Country folks already are stacking straw bales around the house and tacking plastic over windows in anticipation of winter. But the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority suggests other measures that can help keep cold weather from blowing through your cold weather utility budget. Here are eight big ones:
• Upgrade your energy eaters: The $1,500 Federal Tax Credit for Home Energy Improvements expires on December 31. Energy-efficient furnaces, hot water heaters, windows, doors, insulation and other measures qualify. But hurry. They must be installed by December 31, and contractors are already have busy installation schedules.
• Buy a "thinking" thermostat: A programmable thermostat for your heating system will automatically lower temperatures when no one's home or at night – and warm it up just before you get up or get home. It'll save nearly $200 a year without sacrificing comfort.
• Run your fans: Ceiling fans can keep you comfortable in the winter, too. Reversing the direction of the blades pushes warm air down into the room.
• Reduce cable's impact: Are you sitting down? Two cable/DVR set-top boxes use the as much electricity as a standard refrigerator! Request an energy-efficient cable box from your cable provider.
• Buy a new power strip: Plug your home entertainment system and electronics into an advanced power strip to reduce standby power.
• Replace five bulbs: Replace your five most used bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and save more than $50 on your annual energy costs. They last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use 75% less electricity.
• Lower your water temperature: If your water heater thermostat is set at 140 degrees, you can save big dollars by lowering that temperature to 120 degrees.
• Close up cracks: Add insulation, caulking and weather-stripping around doors, attic access, windows, outlets and any area that can let the cold air in and the warm air out.
With a few small steps, you can improve the energy efficiency, health and safety, and overall value of your home. All you've got to lose is your high heating bills.