Jamie Slater, special to WTOP.com
WASHINGTON - When the mercury drops to single digits, it's tempting to hide indoors and crank up the thermostat. But that could cost.
However, there are some ways to stay warm while saving money on heating bills.
"Every consumer should really engage in an energy audit of their home and what they'll find is that some very quick and inexpensive steps could really help to reduce the amount of money that you're paying for the energy to heat or cool your home," says Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief of Bankrate.
One of the most commonsense steps to cut monthly heating bills is to turn down the thermostat.
Hamrick recommends programmable thermostats that automatically lower the temperature. There are also thermostats that can be controlled from a smart phone.
"You can set the temperature to a lower level in your home while you're sleeping and have it raise the heat just as you're getting ready to rise in the morning," Hamrick says.
Keep an eye out for other energy-sapping appliances in the home.
"Every night before you go to bed, play night watchman and do an energy sweep of your home to make sure that the lights have all been turned off," Hamrick says. "Perhaps you can power down some of the electronic devices that you tend to keep running overnight."
There may be nothing more luxurious in cold weather than a hot shower, but lowering the water heater temperature to 120 degrees still offers the same result.
"You don't need to have boiling hot water coming out of your faucet," Hamrick says
Hamrick also recommends using cold water for laundry along with cold water detergents. And, according to Washington Gas, it's important to wash full loads of laundry and dishes.
Some homes might even let in unnecessary cold through cracks around doors and windows. Adding caulking or weather stripping to those areas can help cut the heating bill.
"Just by keeping some of that cold air out, I think you'll find that you'll do a much better job of keeping your home warmer at a lower price," Hamrick says.
Clean furnace filters also help.
"Those should be changed about once every three months, if not more often," Hamrick says.
"Another way you can save money there is to buy a permanent filter and clean it every so often," he says.
Washington Gas also recommends having a licensed professional visit once a year to check a furnace's efficiency.
The utility also recommends high-efficiency appliances, especially those with the Energy Star product label.
Hopefully the cold snap won't last too long, but these tips can be useful year- round.
"Severe weather is a reminder that we really should be paying attention to our energy usage all the time," Hamrick says.
The cost of heating homes with natural gas in the northeast states, including Maryland, is expected to rise 17 percent this winter compared with last. And the cost of heating homes with natural gas in the southern states, including Virginia, is expected to be about 13 percent higher this winter compared to last, according to the Energy Information Administration.
"It's certainly been colder here in both December and January and so far this winter it's about 11 percent colder than it was at this time last year," says Tancred Lidderdale, senior economist of the Energy Information Administration.
There's been so much talk about polar vortex and arctic air blasting its way into the Washington region it may be easy to lose perspective on the winter weather.
"When you look at weather so far this year, in this region, compared with normal, recent averages, we're only 1 percent to 2 percent colder," Lidderdale says.
Prices of home heating oil and natural gas aren't significantly higher than they were last winter.
WTOP's Dick Uliano contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.
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