By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADLEPHIA (CBS) — First comes the frigid cold.  Then come the big utility bills.  As the temperatures drop, 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan tells us about simple things you can do to keep costs under control.

We were spoiled by those warmer than average temperatures, but not anymore.  And while we’ll still likely pay less to heat our homes this year versus last year.  There are still things to keep in mind.

According to government energy forecasts, the majority of the country can expect to spend less to heat our homes this winter.  The majority heat with natural gas.

Those homeowners can expect to save 10% over last year.  Oil customers will shell out 25% less, propane customers should see a 15% savings in the northeast and if your home is heated primarily with electricity, you’ll see around a 3% savings.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t save more by taking some simple steps.

“Easily insulating where you don’t have enough insulation, caulking around windows and weather-stripping around doors where you see daylight coming through,” said Ben Armstrong with PECO.

Armstrong says adjusting your thermostat, even slightly, can have a significant impact on your bill.

“Having a comfortable temperature is maybe 66 degrees during the day, 60 degrees or even below at night to ensure that you’re not using more heat during the night when you’re sleeping,” said Armstrong.

Be sure furniture and blinds aren’t blocking your heat registers and something else you may want to consider.

“Insulated curtains are a great way to keep the cold air out at night,” said Armstrong.

Another way to avoid sticker shock?   See if your utility company offers a budget plan and if so, sign up.  Your bills will be averaged out so that when there are spikes in usage, like now or in the summer during a heat wave, you won’t feel the pinch as much.

Tips for preparing your home for colder weather:

Service your heating system at the beginning of each heating season. When using wood fuel for heating, have your chimney cleaned at the beginning of each heating season. Close the fireplace damper when not in use.

Check your heating ducts for air leaks. Look for joints that should be connected but have separated. Leaky ductwork can increase your utility bill significantly.

Be aware that for every degree you lower your thermostat you save about 2 percent off your heating bill.

Cover or remove window air conditioners and adjust outdoor light timers for length of day and/or daylight savings. Remove screens from windows and install storm windows.

Use caulking and/or weather-stripping on all doors and windows, and use locks on your windows to make them tighter and draft resistant. Also, clean out gutters and downspouts.

Insulate or increase the amount of insulation in your attic, basement and outside walls. Reducing air leaks-in floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, fireplaces, plumbing penetrations, doors, windows, and vents-could cut 10 percent from an average household’s monthly energy bill.

 

Simple things you can do to stay warm and safe this winter:

-Keep blinds, shades and drapes open on sunny days and let the sunlight help warm rooms.

-Close off unoccupied rooms.

-Turn off any unnecessary lights and electronics.

-Check for drafts around windows and doors, and seal up any openings with weather stripping or even a rolled up blanket.  A drafty house lets warm air escape and is much more costly to keep warm – especially on the coldest days of the season.

-Keep thermostats set at a constant, comfortable level. If health permits, lower thermostats just a few degrees when sleeping or when out for more than a few hours.  Large fluctuations in thermostat settings will cause heating systems to work harder and waste energy.

-PECO urges customers stay safe.  Never use an oven or other cooking device as a heat source for your home. It also is a good idea to check on elderly neighbors and relatives during the extreme cold.