How to manage the higher cost of energy this winter

Home energy bills tend to go up in the winter, but this season consumers can expect pay significantly more.

Compared to a year ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that American households will spend 54% more for propane, 43% more for heating oil, 30% more for natural gas and 6% more for electric heating. And heating costs could go even higher, the agency says, if the weather is colder than forecasted — because the energy supply hasn't grown at the same pace as demand during the economic recovery.

Insulate yourself against higher energy costs with these tips:

Plug leaks. Air escaping through the cracks and openings of your home is one of the biggest energy wasters. (Air leakage accounts for up to 40% of the energy used to heat and cool your house, according to the federal Energy Star program.) To reduce leakage:

  • Caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors.
  • Close the damper when you're not using the fireplace.
  • Make sure your attic, basement, crawl spaces and other areas of the house are well-insulated.
  • Add foam gaskets behind the electrical outlet and light switch plates.

Lower the thermostat. Every degree you lower the thermostat reduces your heating bill by 1% to 3%.

Set the thermostat at 68 degrees when you're at home during the day and lower it when you're away or asleep. (Most people sleep better at cooler temperatures. The optimal sleep temperature is 60 to 67 degrees, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)

Install a programmable thermostat that automatically lowers and raises the temperature for you.

Eliminate "energy vampires." These are devices, such as phone chargers, cable boxes, and video game consoles, that drain energy when they're turned off but still plugged in. Unplug them or use a smart power strip that can sense when the devices are in standby mode and cut off power to them.

Change lightbulbs. LED lights use about 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs, according to government estimates.

Use less hot water. Water heating accounts for 18% of the typical utility bill — the second largest energy expense after heating and cooling your house, according to the Department of Energy.

Reduce hot water usage by:

  • Setting your water heater's temperature to 120 Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Washing laundry in warm or cold water.
  • Using an energy-efficient dishwasher that requires less water — an estimated $130 savings a year.

Get an energy audit. Some utility companies offer free walk-through home inspections along with recommendations to improve energy efficiency. If your utility provider doesn't offer this, you can hire a professional to conduct an in-depth inspection with diagnostic testing.

Check for incentives. All states offer tax breaks or other financial incentives to encourage energy conservation. Also, your utility provider might provide rebates on energy improvements.

If you're having difficulty with heating bills, you may be eligible for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It has offices in each state and helps with energy bills as well as weatherization and minor energy-related home repairs.

Please note: The contents of this publication provided by MissionSquare Retirement is general information regarding your retirement benefits. It is not intended to provide you with or substitute for specific legal, tax, or investment advice. You may want to consult with your legal, tax, or investment advisor to review your own personal situation. Some of the products, services, or funds detailed in this publication may not be available in your plan. This document may contain information obtained from outside sources and it may reference external websites. While we believe this information to be reliable, we cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. In addition, rules and laws can change frequently.

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