Whether home heating expenses surge up or inch down, they always seem to take a significant bite out of the family budget. To help you rein in costs as the weather gets cooler, the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs offers these tips.

Lower the temperature

Don’t ignore this simple but effective way to minimize your costs. In fact, you will save roughly 10 percent a year on your energy bills if you lower your thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Turning down the heat and throwing an extra blanket on the bed at night can add up to real savings. A programmable thermostat, which automatically lowers the temperature at night and raises it again in the morning makes this easy, or you can adjust the temperature manually each day if you prefer.

According to the U.S. government’s Energy Star program, a properly programmed thermostat can save you up to $180 a year.

If your schedule changes and you won’t be home when you expected, a new type of programmable thermostat allows you to adjust your thermostat using the Internet, dialing back the temperature until you arrive. Also, check out thermostats that enable you to adjust the temperature in certain zones so you don’t have to heat unoccupied rooms.

Perform maintenance updates

Heating systems that are performing at peak efficiency usually require less energy. That’s why the Energy Department recommends properly maintaining and cleaning your boiler and furnace before the winter begins to be sure they’re in good shape. Don’t forget to check your furnace air filter each month, and replace it at least every three months. This can enhance the furnace’s productivity and extend the life of the equipment.

Insulate, insulate, insulate

The Energy Star program estimates that properly installed sealing and insulation can save homeowners up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, which can knock off 10 percent from your total annual energy cost. If your attic is not already insulated, that’s a great place to start.

But don’t stop there. Air leaks in windows and doorframes will also drain heat from your home—and energy dollars from your wallet. Doors and windows aren’t the only places where leaks can occur. Also check dryer vents, outdoor faucets, crawl spaces, recessed lights, electrical outlets, and elsewhere to see if they are allowing heat to escape. You may be surprised by what you find.

Bring your boiler on board

The Energy Department recommends that you set your water heater temperature at 120 degrees. That’s the most efficient setting for most homes, and it also prevents scalding hazards. Keep in mind that every 10 degree drop in water temperature translates into a three to 5 percent decline in energy costs. Also, be sure to wrap your boiler in an insulation jacket to maximize efficiency.

Act fast fora tax credit

If you can, take advantage of a federal tax credit for those who purchase qualifying energy-efficient products or renewable energy systems for their homes. If you spent up to $5,000 in 2009 and 2010 for energy efficiency improvements to your principal residence, you may be eligible for a one-time credit of 30 percent—or up to $1,500.

Turn to your CPA

If you want to learn more about this credit, and whether any of your energy efficiency choices during the last two years qualify, be sure to consult your local CPA. He or she can help answer all your financial questions. Visit http://www.IneedaCPA.org for more information.

The CommonWealth Tips columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.

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