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Tips to save money, stay warm

As cold weather settles across Minnesota and furnaces kick in to high gear, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) issued a consumer alert today reminding consumers of some basic energy-saving measures to practice in the frigid winter months ahead.

"There are a number of simple things we all can do to save money, save energy, and stay warm this winter," said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. "The Minnesota Department of Commerce is committed to helping provide consumers with the information and resources they need to make it through the winter a little warmer, with a little more money in their wallets."

Commissioner Rothman and the Department of Commerce encourage all Minnesotans to follow these simple, inexpensive household tips:

· Weather strip and caulk windows and doors to eliminate air infiltration.

· Cover drafty windows with tightly sealed plastic to keep the warm air in.

· Open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows to let the sun in during the day to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.

· Seal air leaks to prevent cold air infiltration through chimneys, vents, pipes, and wires that penetrate walls, ceilings and attics. Plugging air leaks is one of the most cost-effective ways to conserve energy and increase comfort, and it will reduce the likelihood of ice dams once the snow flies.

· Close your fireplace damper when a fire is not in use to prevent warm air from escaping. If the fireplace is no longer used, seal the flue with an inflatable plug.

· Maintain your heating system. Have your furnace or boiler tuned up annually to ensure maximum efficiency, consider replacing them if they're old and inefficient, and clean or replace furnace filters regularly as needed. For wood and pellet-burning heaters, clean the flue vent and the inside of the appliance to improve efficiency.

· Maintain your water heater by turning it down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only will this save energy, it will reduce the chances of scalds.

· Use light-emitting diode--or LED--holiday light strings to reduce the expense to decorate your home for the winter holidays.

· Take short showers--with low-flow showerheads--instead of baths to reduce hot water use.

· Look for the ENERGY STAR label when purchasing new household products. ENERGY STAR signifies strict energy efficiency and reliability guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Visit .

· Use a programmable thermostat. Set your thermostat to automatically turn down the heat at night and when you're not at home; if you're home throughout the day, manually turn on and off your heat as needed.

These energy-saving tips were collected from several sources, including the U.S. Department of Energy ( ) and the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment ( ).

For more information on energy conservation and energy efficiency, visit the Commerce Department website and check out two consumer-friendly energy guides: Home Envelope and Appliances, Lighting, Electronics .

The Commerce Department's Division of Energy Resources recommends advanced energy audits of homes to diagnose the best ways to save energy. Audits can be facilitated through your electric or gas utility or the Minnesota Building Performance Association (MBPA). To find a list of certified auditors, visit .