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Follow these simple steps to save energy, money this winter

With temperatures dropping, the Department of Commerce is providing Minnesotans with simple and inexpensive ways to save energy, save money and keep their homes safe this winter.

The Commerce Department's Division of Energy Resources (DER) is committed to helping Minnesotans make informed decisions about their energy use. In that effort, the Minnesota Department of Commerce encourages all Minnesotans to follow these simple household tips.

Set the thermostat low; use a programmable thermostat. Set the thermostat as low as is comfortable when at home and awake. Turn down the temperature about 10 degrees at night when in bed or not at home. This can reduce the heating bill by about 10 percent, or $100, per year.

Seal air leaks to prevent cold air infiltration around chimneys, vents, pipes and wires.

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).

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 the south-facing windows to let in the sun's natural heat, and close them at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.

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

Maintain heating systems. Have your furnace or boiler inspected annually, consider replacing mechanical systems if they're old or 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 the water heater by turning it down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use light-emitting diode, or LED, holiday light strings to reduce the expense to decorate for the winter holiday.

Take short showers, with low-flow showerheads, to reduce hot water use.

These energy-saving tips were collected from several sources, including the DOE. For more information on energy efficiency and energy conservation, visit the DER website and check out two energy guides: "Home Envelope" and "Appliances, Lighting, Electronics" (Information Resources > Consumer Guides).

DER recommends advanced energy audits of homes to diagnose the best strategies to save energy. Audits can be facilitated through your electric or gas utility, visit the Minnesota Building Performance Association for a list of certified auditors, or contact nonprofit energy groups such as the Neighborhood Energy Connection.