Prevent your heating bills from going through the roof

Heating your home can be a costly endeavor. But you don’t have to make your family suffer in shivering silence to save some money. There are plenty of steps you can take to optimize your heating efforts, as well as prep your home for several months of cool weather.

• Check and maintain your insulation. Improperly insulated walls, floors, attics, basements and crawl spaces drain away heat and can encourage mold and mildew.

• Add weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors to prevent drafts which waste energy and money.

• Install a programmable thermostat that shuts itself off during the day when you're away and at night when you're asleep. This will keep you comfortable when you're home and save you money when you're not.

• Keep vents and returns free of obstructions. Don't lay carpet over vents, place furniture over or in front of them or obstruct the flow of air.

• Keep your air filters clean. Check them every couple of weeks and change them as directed by the manufacturer.

• Let the sun shine in by opening curtains on cold days. Get heavy drapes to keep things cozy at night.

• Review last year's energy bills. If your heating costs are drastically higher this year, a qualified HVAC/R technician may be able to diagnose the problem. Schedule such inspections twice annually, even if you aren’t experiencing any detectable issues.

• When choosing a contractor for installation or maintenance, important factors must be taken into consideration. A qualified HVAC/R technician is a skilled professional with proven knowledge who has passed specialized tests. So look for a technician certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the nation's largest independent non-profit certification body for HVAC/R technicians.

• Even the most eco-friendly, high-efficiency products and appliances can waste money and energy if they're not installed, serviced, and maintained properly. Work with certified technicians to ensure your HVAC/R equipment is delivering on its promised energy efficiency.

• Consider alternatives to conventional heating. For example, geothermal heating systems use the earth’s natural heat and are among the most efficient and energy-conserving heating technologies currently available.

• Replacing your system? Purchase equipment with an ENERGY STAR label. High-efficiency systems reduce your impact on the environment and can also save you money. You may also be eligible for a Federal Tax Credit. Check with your local NATE contractor to determine qualifying models. Also, for optimal performance be sure to select the proper size system for your home.