Thinking About Home-Heating Efficiency

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If you think you've been hit by runaway oil prices, you haven't seen anything yet. Just wait till the weather grows colder and you begin to feel the pinch in your home heating bill.

Just think: nobody forces you to drive your car. But when temperatures plunge, you absolutely have to heat your house. You can't let the kids freeze.

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You can start preparing your home for the colder months now:

— Adjust your water heater, advises the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (search). Turn down the temperature to the warm setting — about 120 degrees. Buy an insulating blanket for your water heater to prevent the heat from escaping.

— Replace your furnace's heating filters each fall.

— Seal up air leaks in your house. Listen for windows and doors that whistle on windy days, and then plug the cracks with rope caulk or weather strips. Place towels or draft blockers at the bottom of doors.

— Buy a programmable thermostat. Set it to automatically decrease and increase the temperature based on your schedule — lower at night and when you're at work, higher for when you're at home.

— Clear away furniture from heat vents and registers. Make sure that the hot air has an obstacle-free path to move through your house.