While many parts of the United States might still be experiencing the near-record heat waves of summer 2012, in other parts temperatures have plummeted.
The Environmental Protection Agency has offered ways to save money -- and energy -- this winter, and protect your health too.
Here are seven of the EPA's tips for money-saving households bracing for cold weather:
|Pay attention to your heating equipment to lower utility bills.|
Heating and cooling costs account for about $1,000, or nearly half, of a home's total annual energy bill, the EPA says. Dirt and neglect can affect the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and are among the top causes of heating-system failure.
The EPA recommends that homeowners schedule an HVAC checkup with a licensed HVAC contractor to keep the system operating at peak performance. Also, the system's air filter should be checked every month and changed when it's dirty, or at a minimum of every three months.
|Decorate for the holidays with Energy Star light strings.|
Energy Star light strings can last up to 10 times longer and use about 65 percent less electricity than incandescent light strings, and they are available in a variety of colors, shapes and lengths. If every decorative light string sold in the United States this year was Energy Star qualified, Americans would save $80 million in utility bills and prevent 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
|Lower the temperature in your home.|
Programming the thermostat to turn the temperature down 8 degrees for seven hours each night, and an additional seven hours each weekday, could result in a seasonal heating savings of approximately 12 percent. The EPA states that this could result, on average, in savings of about $180.
|Check for water leaks and install WaterSense-labeled products.|
The average household spends as much as $500 a year on its water and sewer bill. But the EPA says installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances that carry the EPA's voluntary WaterSense label can save about $170 per year.
|Reduce your food waste.|
Americans disposed of approximately 33 million tons of food waste in 2010, making food the largest type of waste in landfills and incinerators, according to the EPA.
When excess food is disposed of in a landfill, it decomposes and becomes a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
|Look for the Design for the Environment label.|
The EPA's Designed for the Environment, or DfE, logo on more than 2,800 products differentiates those that use the safest components to protect people, pets and the environments. In 2011, Americans using DfE products cut the use of harmful chemicals by more than 756 million pounds, the agency said.
|Test your home for radon gas.|
One in 15 homes may have elevated levels of radon, a colorless odorless gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. Levels can increase during colder months. The EPA suggests purchasing an affordable do-it-yourself test kit online or at a local hardware store to determine the level of radon in your home. Addressing high levels often costs the same as making other minor home repairs.
The EPA offers more energy-saving tips on its website.