I’m blessed to live in Southern California. The shiny brochures advertise it as the land of the sun, sand, and surf. That’s true – in the summer. For those of us who live here, winter is cold. Visitors from say, Iowa, may be content to walk around in shorts in January, but Southern Californians are ready to crank up the heat when the temperature dips below seventy. (I never said we were a hardy people.) Certainly, our heating costs aren’t as high those for people who live in Minnesota, but thanks to California’s screwed up energy regulations, our costs aren’t small, either.

So here are my tips for reducing winter energy costs:

Install a thermostat with a timer. My heater is set to turn on about half an hour before we get home at night and half an hour after we go to bed, then to turn on again half an hour before we get up and ten minutes after we leave (to allow for running late.) That means our heat is on for approximately seven hours a day, but not continuously. It only warms the room when it falls too far below our preferred temperature. Since my thermostat is also somewhat broken, that’s 72 degrees. I know that some experts recommend 68 degrees, but our apartment isn’t well insulated and that doesn’t get the chill out of the air.

Dress warmly and use blankets. Before you go turn the heat up any further, put on a sweater and socks. You might even consider a ski hat. That will reduce the heat loss from your body and will make you feel warmer. If you’re just sitting on the couch watching TV, use a throw blanket to keep warm. We have two chenille throws in the living room so we can cover up when it gets a little chilly. As an added bonus, the throws are also excellent ways to cover gaps in the sofa slipcover from that time the dry cleaner shrank it. Just artfully drape the blanket over the gap in the zipper and now the damage is hidden from guests.

Seal pipes, doors, and windows. If you own your home, check the pipes, doors, and windows for leaks, and then do what you must to repair them. This could mean replacing old windows with new, more energy-efficient models, re-caulking, applying duct tape, or putting a film over the windows to lock in heat. If you rent, you can at least close the drapes at night to keep the heat in. Ask your landlord if you can film the windows.

Check your furnace. You should change your air filter at least twice a year. Mark it on your calendar. You may also want to vacuum the vents. The easier it is for the air to flow through the vents, the faster your home will heat. If you have an old furnace, consider replacing it with a new energy efficient model. Although a new furnace is expensive, over time it will more than pay for itself.

Close the fireplace damper. If you’re not using your fireplace, close the damper to prevent cold air from blowing in or warm air from drifting out.

Close vents in unused rooms. If you’re not using a room, close its vent. There’s no reason to heat an empty room.

Replace lightbulbs and old appliances. Remember, that although winter heating takes up about 50% of your energy bill, your lights and appliances still impact your energy bill. By using more energy-efficient appliances and buying Energy Star appliances, you can reduce your total energy bill. By the same token, turn off the lights when you leave a room and turn off any appliances you’re not using. The printer doesn’t need to be on all the time. Unplug your cell phone or battery charger. The little things do matter.

If you follow all of the above tips, you can reduce your energy costs without feeling cold. Visit the following sources for more tips:

For everyone: SmartMoney

For homeowners: Consumer Energy Center

For renters and condo-owners: Focus on Energy

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