With fall finally here and winter on its way, it's a great time to take a look at what you're going to be paying for winter heating and energy use. Here are some simple ways to attack the cost:
1. Lock in a low price for the entire heating season
In roughly 25 states, you can comparison-shop for the best prices on natural gas, because prices are set by the open marketplace, rather than by regulators. If you live in one of these states, you should take advantage of this savings opportunity by locking in a low price for 12 months as soon as possible. (See if your state is deregulated.)
If you are in a deregulated state, Google your state's Public Service Commission. You can find published monthly energy prices from all providers and do comparison shopping using apples-to-apples data.
Remember, there is no difference between a therm or a kilowatt from one company vs. another. The only difference is the price! So shopping the market is so key.
The rates usually reset once a month. You can typically lock in a fixed rate for 6 to 24 months, depending on the rules in your state. Shopping for this stuff may not be fun, but it can save you a whole lot of money on a bill that comes every month like clockwork.
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2. Purchase a smart thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat has given the lowly programmable thermostat in your home a high-tech makeover. This device sells for $200 to $250 and is like an Apple computer to control heating and cooling in your home. It uses artificial intelligence to learn your patterns and auto-adjust the thermostat when nobody is home.
The Nest people have also introduced a newer product that is a combination smoke/CO detector. It's very expensive at $99. But it talks to you in English, French or Spanish and talks you through what's going on instead of just making noise. If the CO level is rising, it warns you and lets you respond before going into full force alarm mode.
3. Get tax credits at the state and federal levels
You can qualify for hundreds of dollars in federal tax credits for installing energy-efficient appliances and upgrades. For example, you can get 30% of the cost of a geothermal heat pump through 2016. Check EnergyStar.gov for complete information on federal credits. (DSIREUSA.org lists all available state incentives.)
Read more: 12 quick DIY ways to save on your energy bill
For more money-saving advice, see our Home & Real Estate section.