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A dozen simple things you can do to cut down big heating bills

If you feel a shiver each time you open your utility bill, your house may be too cold. More likely, however, you're paying more than you should to heat it. In either case, you can make changes now that will make your home more comfortable and save you money.

These aren't big projects like adding attic insulation or replacing your windows — save those for later. They're easy-to-do and inexpensive techniques. The most complicated will take a weekend afternoon, and many take little time and don't even require the purchase of materials, only changing a habit or two. Others can be done for as little as $10. We'll take a look first at the obvious stuff and then at more specialized — but still simple — energy-saving techniques.

1. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day because you don't need to keep your home at 68 degrees around the clock. Although one shouldn't be used with heat pumps, a programmable thermostat is a real money-saver with air-conditioning as well as with heat. Choose a setting on the low end when you're sleeping or are away and go with a higher setting at other times (see table bellow) for savings of between 10 and 20 percent of your bill. Some units can store up to four temperature settings each day — e.g., morning, day, evening, night. All have a manual override switch.

Models from Hunter Fan are typical. The Set & Save 5+2 lets you program one five-day stretch and a two-day period. With the Set & Save 5+1+1, you program one five-day stretch and two other separate days. The Set & Save 7-Day and 7-Day Energy Star models provide the most flexibility, with individual programs for all seven days. The units use AA batteries to maintain the display if the power goes off and to hold settings.

You can easily install a new thermostat yourself. Always follow manufacturer's instructions, but typically you remove the old thermostat and unscrew the wire leads attached to the terminals on the back. Reattach those wires to the new thermostat's terminals, after inserting mounting screws in the wall, if necessary. (If you have separate heating and A/C units that use the same thermostat, you may find four leads, two for each unit.)

FOR HEAT 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. = 68 degrees 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. = 60 degrees 5:30 to 11 p.m. = 68 degrees 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. = 60 degrees

FOR AIR CONDITIONING 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. = 75 degrees 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. = 80 degrees 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. = 75 degrees 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. = 80 degrees

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