Winter is coming. Are you prepared?

Winter is coming. And while we, fortunately, don’t have to face the looming threat to all things living that is White Walkers, there is still one looming threat to our homes that we will have to face: The cost of heating our homes in the winter.

Heating and cooling a home can consume up to 75 percent of the energy households use each month. Despite having some of the lowest electricity rates in the country (about 11 cents per kWh), households in Louisiana earning less than $30,000 per year still spend 23 percent of their after tax income on energy expenses, according to a 2013 study by American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. This cost can weigh heavy on a household’s quality of life – including its ability to make healthy food purchases, pay for extracurricular family and children’s activities, spend on healthcare-related needs, and even save for annual family vacations.

For those eager to defend against the high costs of winter, weatherizing one’s home is a great low cost way to cut down on home heating expenses without sacrificing comfort.

To that end, here are some low-maintenance, cost-cutting solutions recommended by the Department of Energy that can help reduce monthly energy spending: 

1. Take Advantage Of Heat From the Sun

Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

2. Cover Drafty Windows

Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration. Install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.

3. Find And Seal Leaks

Seal the air leaks around utility cut throughs for pipes ("plumbing penetrations"), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulk or weather stripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.

4. Adjust the Temperature

When you are home and awake, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable. When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours and save around 10 percent a year on your heating and cooling bills. A programmable thermostat can make it easy to set back your temperature.

5. Maintain Your Heating Systems

Schedule service for your heating system. Find out what maintenance is required to keep your heating system operating efficiently. For furnaces: replace your furnace filter once a month or as needed. For wood- and pellet-burning heaters: Clean the flue vent regularly and clean the inside of the appliance with a wire brush periodically to ensure that your home is heated efficiently.

6. Reduce Heat Loss From the Fireplace

Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open allows warm air to go right up the chimney. When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly – approximately one inch – and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50° and 55°F. 

If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue. If you do use the fireplace, install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room. Check the seal on the fireplace flue damper and make it as snug as possible. Purchase grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room. Add caulking around the fireplace hearth.

7. Lower Your Water Heating Costs

Water-heating accounts for about 18 percent of the energy consumed within a person’s home. Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You'll not only save energy, you'll avoid scalding your hands.

8. Lower Your Holiday Lighting Costs

Use light-emitting diode -- or "LED" -- holiday light strings to reduce the cost of decorating your home for the winter holidays.

Additional information and energy saving tips can be found on the Department of Energy website at www.energy.gov. To learn more about incentive programs in New Orleans, visit Energy Smart website at www.energysmart.info.com. For other incentive programs that may be available, customers should check with their utility providers.