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Posted: 1:05 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014

3 ways to cut your winter energy bill

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By Clark Howard

The polar vortex that's gripped much of the United States means you're going to be paying a lot more 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. Especially right now that colder temperatures have driven up energy consumption and the cost of energy at wholesale.

The rates usually reset once a month. You can typically lock in to 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.

    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.

    Now the Nest people have introduced a new product that is a combination smoke/CO detector. It's very expensive at $129. 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 for complete information on federal credits. ( lists all available state incentives.)

    BONUS: 12 Quick DIY Ways To Save on Your Energy Bill

    Clark's video advice for cutting your heating bills:

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