Tips to save $$ on your heating bill as winter chills your budget

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As the first wintry blast pushes across Minnesota, furnaces are firing up. We collected a few easy, inexpensive suggestions to keep your heating bill from eating too much of your budget.

FoxBusiness reports that we need to take such steps because it's going to cost more to stay warm this winter. The U.S. Energy Department projects natural gas bills will climb by 13 percent and electric heat will rise by 2 percent.

Mom always told you to put on a sweater rather than boosting the thermostat. She was, of course, correct. A story about saving energy costs in Businessweek estimates that you can save 1 percent on your heating bill for every degree a thermostat is set back. Need more incentive? Popular Mechanics quotes Energy Department figures that say you can knock 10 percent off your yearly heating expenses by turning the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day.

But don't turn the furnace all the way off when you're going to be out for a few hours. The MNN website reports that, although it's counterintuitive, it requires more energy to turn the heat on and off than to simply increase the temperature when needed.

A better idea is to install a programmable thermostat. Popular Mechanics says they cost as little as $25. They save money by keeping the temperature low during the day when no one is home and at night when everyone is sleeping, but higher at other times. People won't remember to turn the thermostat up and down each day, so the programmable thermostat does it for them.

Christina Brown, who lives in Minnesota and runs The Northern Cheapskate website, offered a few simple tips in a blog for H & R Block. She suggests changing the direction that your ceiling fan rotates. That circulates the hot air that rises up to the ceiling back down to your living space. And change your furnace filters every month. Dirty filters force a furnace to work harder and longer, which will bump up your bill in the short run and shorten the life of your furnace in the long run.

Other cheap ideas for saving include:

— Keep air vents clean and uncovered so heat can easily flow throughout your home.
— Shut off kitchen fans and bathroom fans as soon as they are no longer needed.

— Make sure the damper in your fireplace is closed when you aren't using it.
— Think of the sun as a heater and your drapes as a blanket: Open drapes when there's direct sunlight, close them at night to keep heat from escaping.

Oh, and put on a sweater!

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