For many people, winter means more than a season of gray skies and heavy coats; it's also the time when energy bills go through the roof. Before you wind up opening your monthly bill with a gasp, we'd like to offer you a bit of advice. These energy-saving tips are specifically designed to tackle many of the pitfalls of energy use during the winter. Embracing just a couple of them could wind up saving you a lot of money this season!

1. Check all your doors and windows for gaps

When you're sitting on the couch, the last thing you want to feel is a blast of cold air squeezing through the window frame as the wind picks up. Those drafts are made possible by gaps in your home's exterior that need immediate attention if you're not interested in heating the block. The best way to seal these off is by caulking the area between the edge of the window frame and the rest of the house, both outside and inside.

For a better seal on your doors, invest in some weather stripping to put on the inside of the doorframe. That should take care of any open spaces and prevent your house from being susceptible to drafts.

2. Make your thermostat work for you

No matter what type of thermostat you have, it's important to ensure that it's working for you in the winter. If you have a manual on-off switch only, be sure to turn your heat down to around 50 degrees whenever you're going to be gone for a long period of time. That way your heating won't be using energy when no one is home to enjoy it.

If you have a programmable thermostat, take a few minutes from your day and learn how to program it correctly. Most models will allow you to create different profiles for weekdays and weekends, so your furnace will always turn on when it should be doing its job and will stay off when a warm house is not necessary.

Smart thermostats take that concept one step further. Rather than having to program many smart thermostats, they learn your usage patterns automatically. For the first few weeks you'll need to teach your thermostat your habits by treating it like a manual model. Turn it up when you're home, down before you leave. Soon enough, you won't have to touch it at all and your home will always be comfortable when you walk across the threshold.

3. Use blankets and sweaters to reduce the temperature in your home comfortably

Decreasing the temperature in your home by just a few degrees can really make a difference on your energy bill. The higher the thermostat's setting, the more money you'll have to pay to keep it there. If you're really looking to cut back on energy spending in the winter, get some blankets out of the linen closet and leave them in living areas where you'll be able to use them. Putting on an extra blanket and a sweater will help you stay comfortable even in a cooler room.

4. Avoid space heaters

Unless you have nothing but electric heat in your home, space heaters should be on your list of things to avoid in the winter. Space heaters can pose a fire hazard if they're not used appropriately, and they consume a lot of energy for minimal effect. It may feel great having a warm stream of air on your feet while sitting at your desk, but is it worth the risk and the cost?

5. Check to see if you have sufficient insulation

Even if you're not an expert handyman, keeping tabs on the state of your insulation is a good idea. If you don't have a well-insulated home, you'll wind up losing much of the warm air you're paying to heat. Insulation is a surprisingly low-cost item, and a new layer can go a long way to helping you meet your energy saving goals. If you're not sure whether you should invest in new insulation, it might even be a good idea to get the opinion of a professional.

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