Q: We just moved into a new house and I just got my first gas and electric bill – it was over $700! Gulp! Got any tips on how I can lower my heating bill this winter?

A: You’re in luck. I actually majored in Household Electric Bills when I was in college! The key to keeping your house warm in the winter is having proper insulation (see my column on your options for insulation), which basically means you keep the outside air out and the inside air in. In the winter, you want to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. Unfortunately, you can’t always change the way the way your house is insulated, so what to do? Here are a few things you can try.

Make sure to get your heating system maintenance before each winter season. Many electric companies offer a yearly maintenance service where they come and change the filter in your system. Over time, the filter can get clogged and air can have trouble getting through.

Actually, it’s generally a good tip to change the filters on all your appliances — your vacuum, your dryer, your coffeemaker — to help them work more efficiently. The service technician can also make sure all the vents are working properly and the ducts are properly sealed so you can get the most bang for your buck.

Then, do the tissue test around your house. Hold a tissue up to the bottom of your doors and windows. If the tissue moves, you’re the lucky winner of a draft! Many houses have so many small gaps in the windows, and doors, it’s like having a window wide open! It’s important to make sure that no warm air is leaking out and no cold air is leaking in. (Just make sure that when you do seal off all the gaps, you don’t caulk your windows and doors shut.)

You can also put plastic on your windows, especially older ones that don’t seal completely. I didn’t believe this one at first — how could a thin layer of plastic really make that much of a difference? But we tried it just this winter in our son’s room because of how cold it got at night, and immediately after we did, the temperature in his room rose by 5 degrees!

Next, try using a programmable thermostat. That way, you can lower the temperature automatically when you don’t need the heat as high, like when you’re at work. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter when you’re home and a few degrees lower when you’re not home or asleep. I tried this one — for someone like me, who wears her Uggs through June, 68 degrees is frigid. But heated blankets definitely make it more bearable — that and my husband’s thermal pajamas.

There are lots of other ways to lower your heating bill and make your house more efficient. But sometimes we all forget one way that’s just too logical — layer up. The more layers you have on, the warmer you’ll be. And use warm blankets at night. Use two if you like. My husband actually wears a ski hat to bed to keep him warm and you know what? He’s positively toasty! And if you wake him up in the middle of the night, he’s ready for a good old-fashioned burglary, too.

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