Many ways to save while keeping a home warm in winter

When the winter months roll around, most homes probably see their energy costs skyrocket. Whether they have electric or gas heat, the cost of warming an apartment or house can be quite high each month, especially when particularly frigid weather descends across the country. However, there are many ways to reduce those necessary costs, and consumers who can take advantage will likely be well-positioned financially.

One of the biggest issues that many people nationwide may face when it comes to high heating bills is that their homes just aren't in good shape to retain heated (or, in the summer, cooled) air. Often, little cracks and other openings may develop around windows and doors in particular, but also along foundations and in other parts of a building's structure. And while these may be pretty small and seemingly inconsequential on an individual basis, the fact of the matter is that they can add up to a major issue; some experts say that the combined size of all these little openings can be equal to leaving a window open 24 hours a day. That's a lot of heated air almost literally flying out the window.

What else can be done?
Further, consumers might be wise to make the small investment required for a programmable thermostat - which often cost somewhere between $75 and $100 - that can save them several times that price over the life of its use. The reason these can be so valuable is that temperatures don't need to be maintained while no one is home, so setting it to drop the temperature by, say, 10 degrees while everyone is at work or school, and then automatically bringing it back up to normal an hour before everyone gets home can save a tremendous amount of money, year-round.

In addition, air and furnace filters need to be cleaned or replaced more regularly than most people probably think, the report said. These make heating (or cooling) systems work harder to produce the same outcome, but making sure they're clean every few months, and replaced at some point each year, will usually go a long way toward bringing costs down as well. And when entire components in systems need to be replaced, consumers might be wise to make sure they're buying energy-efficient models that can likewise bring costs down.

Altogether, all the above practices may save consumers well over $100 each year.

What can be done with the money?
Financial experts typically recommend that consumers who can save money each month should do more with it than just spend it on other things they may think they need in their lives. For instance, if they can put that cash into an emergency savings account or use it to pay down their existing debt - on credit cards, auto loans, or student loans - they may find themselves in a much better financial position going forward as a result.

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