Jan. 27, 2011 -- The nation is in the grip of a record-breaking winter.
Given the unprecedented snow and cold, home heating costs are sure to be of concern to families.
Hobson, who is the "GMA" personal finance contributor, offered the following tips for how you can reduce your winter home heating bill:
Lower Your Temp, Lower Your Bill
One of the easiest ways to save on home heating costs is to turn down your heat. Reducing the temperature on your thermostat by just one degree can shave up to 3 percent off of your home heating bill, Hobson said. Those who cannot live with a decrease should consider dropping the temperature 10 to 15 degrees while they are away at work. That could save 10 percent, and if you keep the temperature down while you are sleeping you could save an added 10 percent, Hobson said.
Click HERE to see more of Mellody's tips to cut your home heating costs.
You should consider a programmable thermostat, which would be especially handy if you tend to forget to turn down the heat when you are sleeping or away from home. You can program these thermostats to automatically lower the temperature at certain times, she said. The devices start at around $50, and could pay for themselves within a year, she added.
Reduce Hot Water Heater Temp
Who doesn't love a hot shower in the winter? You can reduce the temperature on your hot water heater and still enjoy your showers, Hobson said. Most water heaters are factory set to 140 degrees, but you could reduce that to 120 degrees and not feel any difference in your shower, Hobson said.
Lowering the temperatures by 20 degrees could mean a savings of at least 6 percent in your water heating costs, she added.
Think about getting a low-flow shower head, which uses at least 25 percent less water, Hobson said. Many of these shower heads costs less than $20, and you won't feel a difference in the water pressure, she added.
If you have an older water heater that lacks built-in insulation, consider buying a jacket or blanket for the heater -- especially if it's located in a cold area. Such jackets cost between $10 and $20, but they could save you an added 4 to 9 percent on water heating costs, Hobson said, adding that the cover would pay for itself in about a year. You can get a jacket or blanket at any hardware store, she noted.
Insulation Is Key
Proper insulation is vital to keeping your heating costs down in the winter and your cooling costs down in the summer, but your current home may not have the most efficient level of insulation. To determine the most economic insulation level for your house, go to the U.S. Department of Energy's zip code insulation calculator.
The cost of updating insulation on the typical attic generally starts around $500, but you could save at least 20 percent on your monthly heating bill, so the installment could pay for itself in a year, Hobson said.
Plug the Leaks!
Plugging air leaks is a quick and easy way to save money and be more energy efficient. A house that is well-sealed is 20 percent more energy efficient, according to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Heat most commonly can escape through the front and back doors and windows of your home, and doors and windows allow cold air to enter the house, Hobson said. She recommended weather stripping as an affordable, practical and quick way to seal the areas that allow heat loss. You should ensure that any seal you install not interfere with the functionality of the door or window, she added.
Another easy window insulation solution is to cover the window in plastic. You can buy ready-to-use window insulation kits at a hardware store for about $6, she said.
Other Leaky Areas
Your fireplace. Make sure that the damper in your chimney is completely closed.
Light switches and electrical outlets. Check your local hardware store for outlet or switch sealers, which will create a barrier against incoming cold air. You can buy an 8-pack for as low as $2. Since you'll be working around electricity, she stressed that you must turn off the outlet or switch before you install the seals.
Visit the Department of Energy's website. You'll find helpful tips and easy-to-follow information on how you can increase your energy efficiency and lower your heating and cooling costs.
Web Extra Tips
One of the simplest ways to use less heat is to make sure you keep your curtains open during the day to let in as much sunlight as possible. Also, closing your blinds in the evening may give you some added insulation.
Using your fan in the winter actually can help you retain heat in your house. Adjust your fan so it turns clockwise. This way, warm air will be pushed down from your ceiling.
If you would like to weatherize your home but can't afford it, the government may be able to help. The Department of Energy has a Weatherization Assistance Program that helps low-income families make their homes more energy efficient. You can get more information about the program in your state on the site.