Bills.com Suggests 7 Ways to Reduce Winter Heating Costs

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Preparation, conservation can save energy and money

As Americans tighten their belts this winter, Ethan Ewing, president of free online consumer portal Bills.com, presents seven ways to lower home heating bills -- and create breathing room in budgets -- while saving energy.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American home will spend $990 on heating this year.

"Implementing a few energy-saving measures can make a significant difference on this big-ticket item for most households," Ewing said.

1)    Protect your system. Change furnace filters regularly to keep your air clean and to ensure maximum air flow. If your home, apartment or condo unit has an individual furnace or boiler, have it inspected by a professional. A furnace that works properly will be more efficient and less likely to fail. "For maximum savings, ask the service person for tips on ways you can maintain your system yourself," Ewing suggested.

2)    Turn down the heat. If your health permits, lower the thermostat to 68 degrees (or even lower). For every one degree the thermostat is lowered, heating costs decrease by up to 5 percent. At night, or when the home is empty, lower the temperature as far as possible while protecting your health and the safety of pipes. If necessary, stay cozy with an electric blanket.

3)    Program the temperature. Make furnace settings automatic by installing a programmable thermostat. These devices cost about $40 and are simple to install.

4)    Save hot water energy. Turn the temperature on the hot water heater to 120 degrees - or, if yours is equipped only with a scale, turn it down a notch. Most people can save up to 10 percent of water heating costs, maintaining plenty of hot water (and the water will be less likely to cause accidental scalding). If the hot water heater is situated in a cool area, consider adding an insulating jacket to help maintain water temperatures and reduce heating time. Insulate the first few feet of pipe that transport hot water from the water heater. If you need to replace a water heater, consider a tankless or "on-demand" unit. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates these appliances are 8 percent to 34 percent more efficient than conventional hot water tanks.

5)    Insulate. Carefully inspect your home for drafty spots where cold air can enter. The most common culprits are doors and windows. Install weather stripping and door sweeps to block drafts. Add old-fashioned "draft dodgers" for a quick fix at exterior doors. Other common areas for air leaks are locks, outlets, air conditioning units and recessed light fixtures. Cover outside vents, including air conditioning units. If possible, install insulated electrical outlet boxes and light fixtures. The Energy Star program offers a free guide to home insulation at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=diy.diy_index.

6)    Shop around. Those who purchase fuel oil have a choice of energy providers. Do compare prices to obtain the lowest rates.

7)    Take a tax credit. In 2009, homeowners who add certain efficiency measures to their homes can take a tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of the materials used, up to $500 per home. Learn more at http://www.energytaxincentives.org/consumers/insulation_etc.php.

"These changes can make a real difference in home heating costs this winter and provide a good start on your 2009 budget," Ewing said. "You can feel good about saving energy -- and keeping more of your money in your own bank account."

About Bills.com (http://www.bills.com)
Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 50,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

Bills.com holds the No. 257 spot on the Inc. 500 list for 2008, and the No. 3 spot on Entrepreneur Magazine's Hot 100 list of the fastest-growing U.S. companies. Company co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2008, and were recipients of the Northern California Ernst & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

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Aimee Bennett

Ethan Ewing
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