This winter is sure to be hard on your pocketbook. To reduce your heating costs, take immediate action…

NO-COST WAYS

1. Wear a sweater during the day and use an extra blanket at night. Then you can set the thermostat at 68°F during the day (or lower, depending on your constitution) and 60°F at night — a proven way to save hundreds of dollars.

2. Don’t set the thermostat higher than the desired temperature to speed up heating. The house will not warm up any faster — instead, you will overshoot your desired temperature, and you may well forget to turn the thermostat back down.

KEEP HEAT INSIDE

3. Close external leaks. Mail chutes and the spot around the clothes dryer vent are key culprits for heat loss. Ducts running through attics, crawl spaces, garages and basements are another common source of leaks.

What to do: Seal duct joints with mastic paste (reinforced duct sealant), metal-backed tape or an aerosol sealant. Regular duct tape should not be used because it cannot withstand temperature extremes. Ductwork is usually hard to get at, so sealing is best left to a professional.

4. Inspect your house for hidden openings. After dark, with all of the inside lights off, have a friend stand outside and shine a high-powered flashlight around the exterior while you remain inside. Any light coming through walls that you see inside translates to heat leaks that should be sealed.

5. Use incense to help you test for drafts. First, turn off exhaust fans and make sure that windows are closed. Then move about the house holding the incense. If the smoke drifts sideways, it could indicate a leak.

6. Lock windows and sliding doors. This gives the panels their tightest possible seal.

7. Add sealant to the glazing putty in your windows if it is dry and cracked. Also seal any visible cracks around the windows between the sash (the movable part) and the frame with weather stripping or cloth.

8. Close storm windows properly. If you don’t have storm windows, put plastic film made for insulating windows on the inside. This acts as an interior storm window. Cost: About $10 for two three-foot-by-five-foot sheets, available at hardware or building-supply stores.

9. Stop heat loss from under exterior doorways. Place a draft blocker across the bottom of the doorway. For a more permanent solution, attach weather stripping to the bottom of the door.

10. Check the location of your thermostat. A drafty window or an exterior door near your thermostat can turn your heating system on unnecessarily. Best: Put your thermostat on an inside wall away from a window or door.

11. Close vents/registers/baseboard heating/radiators in unused rooms. But make sure to keep the rooms warm enough to prevent water pipes that might run through adjacent walls from freezing.

12. Keep your damper closed when not using the fireplace. An open damper allows about 8% of your heat to escape up the chimney.

13. Cover through-the-wall and window air conditioners for the winter. Close the vents and put an insulated cover, available at hardware or building-supply stores for about $25, on the air conditioners to complete the seal.

14. Buy a programmable thermostat. Set your heat to ramp down at night and up in the morning… down again before you leave the house… and up a half hour before you come home, so when you arrive, the chill will be out of the house.

15. Buy heating oil in the late summer or early fall. The price of home heating oil is usually lowest in the off season.

USE NATURE

16. Heat with wood. Buy a wood-burning stove and seasoned firewood by the cord, or buy a pellet stove and use wood pellets. Wood pellets are more economical than firewood. They are also less trouble, since a hopper lets the fuel down into the stove as needed — rather than continually feeding the stove yourself.

17. Consider solar. A federal tax credit for installing solar water heaters and solar panels is in effect through 2019. The tax credit is 30% of the system, including installation.

18. Use the warmth delivered by sunlight. Remove unnecessary tree branches and other barriers to give your home more exposure to the sun. Open shades, blinds and drapes to let sunlight — and solar warmth — in.

OTHER MONEY SAVERS

19. Consider portable electric heaters. New federal regulations require all portable heaters manufactured after July 2008 to include enhanced energy saving features. So, it may be less expensive to use a small space heater than cranking up the furnace if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in a specific area. Be sure to keep all doors to the room closed for maximum efficiency.

20. Add a furnace humidifier. This increases your perception of warmth — 68°F with moisture can feel warmer than 72°F without it. A humidifier can be added to any type of heating system.

21. Change or clean furnace filters every few months, no matter what kind of heating system you have. Running your furnace at peak efficiency will save you money.

GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

22. Get a free “energy audit” from your utility company, which evaluates the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling systems in addition to assessing how you can save energy. Get an energy audit by a home energy rater if your utility company doesn’t perform this service. A home energy rating will also give you an idea of the energy efficiency of your home and help you make informed choices about which improvements are likely to have the most effect.

You can find a home energy rater at Residential Energy Services Network (www.resnet.us/). You could also use a Building Performance Institute Inc. (www.bpi.org) accredited contractor to do an energy audit. Cost for these services is about $100to $1,650 (depending on your location), but potential savings may make the expense worthwhile.

23. Have your heating system serviced annually. This includes a thorough cleaning of the blower (and nozzle if it uses oil), and making any necessary adjustments. The furnace’s combustion efficiency should be tested to calculate how completely the fuel is burned and how much of the heat is transferred into your home.