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Five ways to use less energy this winter

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Winter heating season will be upon us shortly. Even in central Texas, heating sometimes takes a bite. Because conservation is a big part of the energy self-sufficiency puzzle, here are five steps to take to reduce the amount of electricity you use to stay warm this winter.

1. Weatherstripping. Replace the weatherstripping on your doors. The old weatherstripping wears out and loses its ability to seal gaps. Weatherstripping is dirt cheap and the job takes less than an hour. This one is an easy choice. Close the gaps, use less energy.

2. Reverse the ceiling fans. In the summer, ceiling fans blow air down. This creates a breeze that helps keep us cool. Reverse the fan direction in October and let the fan blow air up for the next six months. You won't feel the breeze, but the fan will rotate the warm air throughout the room, allowing your furnace or heating system to work less.

3. Break out the blankets and sweaters. I don't know about you, but we're coldest first thing in the morning. Flannels and extra blankets allow us to keep the house a tad cooler than we would otherwise without giving up any comfort.

4. Reprogram the thermostat. Goodbye summer settings. If you have a programmable thermostat, set the heat to come on about 20 minutes before the alarm goes off. If you know you’re going to be out for a few hours, simply shut the heat off, since freezing pipes are not a concern here. If you don't have a programmable thermostat, you might wish to consider one. They are a great investment for anyone interested in using less energy.

5. Consider a furnace tune up or home energy audit. If you haven't given energy savings a lot of thought, a home energy audit may point out ways to dramatically save energy. Most utility companies offer them at a nominal cost. They pay for themselves very quickly. Tuning up a furnace is important. A clean running furnace uses less energy. If your home is heated with natural gas, an annual tune up is critical, not only for efficiency, but also for your safety. This is one thing I would recommend not skimping on.

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