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8 tips to keep your bills in control this winter

With winter just around the corner, residents across the country are bracing themselves for snow, chilly weather and a surge in their utility bills. Thankfully, there are ways to control just how much power you are using. Between nudging the thermostat up a few degrees to stay warm and turning lights on earlier to keep night at bay, you're sure to see your monthly bills jump up over the next few months no matter the type of power you use to run your home. However, thanks to the expected effects of El Niño, conditions may not be as brutal as they were last year, so the financial burden may not be as hefty. The Energy Information Administration reported temperatures are expected to be 10 percent higher across the nation, which means you'll be using fewer resources to stay warm.

This is, of course, great news, but if you want to save even more on your bills this winter, check out these tips to cut back on energy use:

1. Go natural: The sun is a great source of energy, and even if you don't have solar power for the home, you can take advantage. The Department of Energy recommended keeping curtains open on all your south-facing windows during the day. Close them at night to keep the drafts out.

Open curtains during the day to soak up the sun's natural heat.Open curtains during the day to soak up the sun's natural heat.

2. Barricade your windows: When the curtains are closed, they can stop cold air from escaping into the rest of the house. The thicker the material, the better job it will do. The DOE also suggested picking up some heavy plastic to cover the windows with. This will prevent air from leaking into your home.

3. Seal leaks: Once you take care of the drafty windows, you may want to address other areas where air can get in. Use runners for exterior doors and seal any leaks, such as those around pipes and in unfinished spaces with caulk. If you have a chimney, This Old House suggested keeping the damper closed tightly when it's not being used.

4. Humidify: Dry air doesn't retain heat as well as humid air, but humidity levels tend to drop in cold weather. U.S. News and World Report recommended using a humidifier so your heating system won't have to work as hard to keep you warm. The energy spent running the humidifier is a drop in the bucket compared to what the heating system needs.

5. Heat on a schedule: When you're out of the house, or asleep under warm covers, there is less need for the heat to be on full blast. You can save as much as 10 percent on your heating bill simply by turning the dial down anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees during these times, according to the DOE. If you don't want to manually adjust the temperature every day, you can install programmable thermostats, set a daily schedule and never think about it again.

You won't pay to heat an empty house with a programmable thermostat.You won't pay to heat an empty house with a programmable thermostat.

6. Heat selectively: If there are areas in your home that are often unoccupied, why are you paying to keep them as warm as the rest of your home? Close vents to storage spaces like the basement or any other unused rooms. U.S. News suggested, rather than turning on the heat in a room when you do want to use it, bring in a portable space heater. The electricity used will be far less than the energy needed to heat the room with the built-in option.

7. Invest in newer hardware: Sometimes the systems in your home are older than you are. Sometimes they simply need some maintenance to run more efficiently. The upfront cost of replacing or repairing the system may seem steep, but the long-term benefits will counteract the investment, especially if you invest in an Energy Star system designed to function more efficiently. You'll also have the added benefit of reducing your consumption and carbon footprint even further.

8. Shower less: Not only will you use less water, but the heating system won't be as strained if you cut down on the number of showers you take during winter months, and the length of the showers themselves. The hot water can feel good on a cold day, but the savings on your bills will feel even better.

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