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Neither we nor our houses are built for sub-zero temps, so in addition to breaking out the blankets, we need to prepare our homes for winter.

Winter checklist: Coat, Crock-Pot—and caulk 

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Our northern neighbors and transplants scoff at the Southern idea of winter: 40-degree temperatures.

But neither we nor our houses are built for sub-zero temps, so in addition to breaking out the blankets, we need to prepare our homes for winter. To keep heating bills from chilling your bank account, prepare for winter by finding and sealing drafts that rob the house of warm air. Lay additional insulation in the attic and caulk or place weather-stripping around windows and doors to cure drafts. You can earn tax credits by buying and installing energy-efficient windows and doors.

Adjust the thermostat to a cooler setting, or install a programmable thermostat to do it automatically. This will save significant energy costs if you keep the temperature lower for at least eight consecutive hours, such as when you're sleeping or away.

Regular tune-ups aren't just for cars. Your heating system needs a good once-over every year to ensure it operates efficiently. And don't forget to regularly change air filters. A dirty air filter can make it harder to circulate warm air and can cause the system to operate longer.

Ceiling fans aren't just for cooling: They are an excellent way to help warm a room. Reverse the direction to clockwise (so that the fan directs air downward) and warm air that has risen to the ceiling will circulate down into the room. If you don't have a fan, it's a worthy investment: You can get a decent one for $50-$100, and it's easy to install.

About half of all home energy use comes from heating and cooling. If your existing heating system is old and worn-out, it will use more energy—and suck the money out of your bank account. Other factors that drive up energy use are poor insulation and leaky windows and doors.

In a perfect world, you would replace an old, inefficient system with a new, energy-efficient one. There are available tax credits for system replacement projects. The Web site Energy Star has a page dedicated to obtaining these credits.

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