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Five low-cost ways to reduce your heating Bill: keep your family--and your pockets--warm this winter.

HEATING COSTS ARE SKYROCKETING. HOUSEHOLDS will shell out a whopping $986 for heating this winter, up from $889 in the 20%-2007 season--a near 11% increase. What's more, prices can spike as high as $200 in February because of the chilly temperatures, according to Lansing, Michigan-based energy provider Consumers Energy. Here are a few quick tips to help you stay toasty and save money while you're at it.

LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD, You may find relief in an unlikely source--your energy provider. Level payment plans, such as the one offered by New York-based energy provider Con Edison, allow customers to pay a set amount each month based on factors such as a household's past energy use and weather projections. At the end of the 12-month plan period, the customer either pays the difference between the company's projection and the customer's actual usage, if more energy was used, or receives a refund or credit if less energy was used. Check with your local energy provider for details.

TURN ON YOUR CEILING FAN. Reverse the motor so that your ceiling fan operates in a clockwise direction, at the lowest speed setting. "Because heat rises, you have the option to reverse the air setting to push that warm air down in the winter," says Maria Vargas, a spokeswoman from Energy Star, a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Using your ceiling fan can shave $10 off your heating bill.

KEEP WARM AIR IN. You can save up to 20% on heating costs by sealing and insulating your home. Seal in heat by weatherstripping and caulking around all windows and doors, cracks, and places where pipes, electrical wires, and ducts enter the home. Weatherstripping creates a tight seal between the moving parts of doors and windows, whereas caulking seals gaps around nonmoving parts of doors and windows and other small openings where air can escape. You can buy weatherstripping and caulking materials for less than $10 at home improvement stores such as Home Depot (www.homedepot.com).

CHANGE YOUR FURNACE FILTER. Don't forget to have your furnace inspected and tuned-up each fall, and replace your filter regularly during the winter. "It's the little things that add up to big savings," says Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield. Preventative measures go a long way toward saving money on heating costs. "A furnace is like a car," says Holyfield. "If it's not tuned up, it won't work properly to heat your home. Air can't flow through well enough and the furnace has to work harder and less efficiently." Most filters cost less than $25 and can be purchased at stores such as Lowe's (www.lowes.com), which has an online guide to choosing the right filter. Lowering your thermostat is also wise. Each degree you dial down can save you 1% to 3% on your heating bill.

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INSTALL GLASS DOORS IN FRONT OF YOUR FIREPLACE. Glass doors lock in much-needed heat and can be purchased at home improvement stores for about $250. In addition, keeping the chimney damper closed when the fireplace is not in use keeps heated air from escaping. "It's all about the warm air leaking out of your house," says Vargas, adding that the total size of the gaps that allow air to escape in most homes equals that of an open window.

Resources to Get You Through the Winter

* Alliance to Save Energy (www.ase.org) offers a newsletter with helpful tips and news.

* American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (www.aceee.org) has a free consumer's guide to home energy savings.

* Energy Star (www.energystar.gov) tells you how to get rebates on energy-efficient heating equipment.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:SECRET SAVINGS
Author:Lee, Chanel A.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:616
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