How to cope with looming higher energy bills

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Citizens Energy says you can expect your bill to spike this month. Home natural gas prices could go up as much as 18-percent from this time last year.

You can expect to pay an average $11.43 more this month than the same time last year on a typical home gas bill.  The reason?  Citizens says natural gas prices are higher, and stored gas that was purchased at a lower price last year is depleted.

With that in mind, you can take some simple steps right now to help keep your energy costs down.

Let's start with your heating and cooling systems. You should be checking and changing your furnace filters on a regular basis. It's very important to know the size of your filter and use the proper size.  Changing and cleaning should be done every 30 days.

Get an external wrap for your water heater and insulate water lines for the first six feet to prevent heat loss.  And see if you can stand to lower your hot water temperature to a maximum 120-degrees.

Savings also come from regulating the temperature on your thermostat. "An estimate would be around 20-percent," said Ray Judy, a home energy inspector, "if you do that - setting back the thermostat, setting back water and sealing up those areas that come into the house. If you have more insulation, that's going to raise that percentage up higher."

Don't confuse energy savings with comfort. Instead, adjust your comfort to energy savings.  If you can tolerate your heat setting at 67 degrees, your air conditioning at 72, and your hot water at 120, you can probably save some money.

Industry experts advise to look in your attic. If you see about 3 inches of insulation, you need to increase that. The recommendation is about 12 inches of settled depth when new insulation is blown in. But before you insulate, check for air leaks.

"Look for the penetrations through the ceiling," Judy said, "because that becomes a driving force for heat loss through the house. If the heat goes into those interior wall cavities and cavities go into the top, then that creates a process for that air to escape into the attic. So before doing that insulation, you need to do that air sealing."

Look for large gaps at entry doors and insulate around the windows. It's a low cost fix that can really save you in the long run.