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Winter temperatures are going down while utility costs are going up.

Local residents are facing as much as a 37 percent increase in electricity costs beginning Jan. 1. Saving money on winter heating costs is top of mind.

Next Step Living encourages homeowners to first have a complete no-cost home energy assessment to identify all the ways in which they can reduce energy costs. Rob Istnick, a Pepperell resident and Next Step Living home energy advisor, offers these additional tips.

Q. What can we do right away to conserve energy and save on winter heating costs?

A. The heart of your home’s winterization is your HVAC system. It’s a good idea to have an HVAC technician check your thermostat settings, ignition controls, electrical connections, the firing chamber and whether the system has proper draft and ventilation. They will also look for any visible cracks on the heat exchanger.

Q. What else can I do?

A. Your home’s insulation is vital to energy efficiency. You can color-check your insulation. Properly working insulation should be a yellow or pink color. If you see your fiberglass insulation turning black or getting dirty, it’s a sign of air coming through, which means your home isn’t properly insulated anymore. Insulation works best when there is no air movement through it.

Q. Speaking of insulation, parts of my home always feel drafty. Any suggestions?

A. This will cost some money up front but pay off well for the long-term. You need to take a critical look at your windows. One misconception is that homeowners think they can put a storm window over a single pane window and that qualifies as double pane. It doesn’t. Storm windows have no insulating value. The best solution is to invest in double or triple pane windows that offer insulation. They will give you the greatest heat protection and efficiency.

Q. Any other fixes that are low budget now that we’re getting into the busy holidays?

A. Yes, there are a few. A simple improvement is to change your air filters at a minimum, every three months. If the filter looks dirty, change it right away. Dirty filters waste energy by making the HVAC system work harder. Another efficiency fix is a programmable thermostat. While at work or traveling, you can set it to use minimum energy, saving as much as $180 a year.

Q. How about fireplaces. They’re great to cozy up to this time of year but do they help save money and energy?

A. Fireplaces can actually be big-time energy wasters. Wood-burning fireplaces produce a net loss of heat. The warm air from other places in your home goes up and out through the chimney, so your heating system has to work harder. One way to retain heat in your home is to close the dampers when you’re not using your fireplace. Another way to minimize heat loss from your fireplace is to insulate your chimney. If you don’t, creosote can build up and will eventually decrease the efficiency of your fireplace.

Next Step Living is a home energy solutions company based in Boston. For more energy savings tips, visit

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