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Is your home prepared for the cold winter months?

Brrr! Despite a few unusually warm days in November, this was the month we turned on the heat at home.

Unfortunately, news reports are telling us that this winter, it's going to be a bit more expensive to achieve hygge (the Swedish word for comfort, coziness and warmth).

Last year, homes that used natural gas cost an average of $543 to heat over the winter months. This year, the average cost is expected to be around $750, an increase of about 30 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.

People with electric heat will also see increases in their costs, but not as much as their natural gas neighbors. Still, heating a home with electric heat will remain more expensive than natural gas. Homeowners heating their home with electric heat may face paying around $838 this winter.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that go into how much you pay for heat, including how large your home is and — more importantly — how energy efficient it is.

Before we head into the coldest months of winter, it may be a good idea to take a look around your home to see where you may be losing the most heat. An energy-efficient, well-insulated home will be much less expensive to heat than one with older windows or insulation. So, you may want to consider making some improvements.

Here are a few things to consider doing:

New windows. If you have single-pane windows, older vinyl windows or if you can feel cold air around the edges of your windows, it may be time to consider replacing them. Depending on the level of improvement, new windows can save you money on your energy bills and replacing them can give window installers the opportunity to add insulation around the window sills for a big improvement.

Insulation and gaps. Over time, fiberglass insulation compresses and can lose some of its effectiveness. It may be a good time to measure your insulation and add more, or consider switching to spray foam insulation in your attic. In addition, you’ll want to seal up the gaps around the attic hatch, recessed lighting fixtures, electric outlets and air ducts. Take a look at the plumbing in your house, too, and consider adding insulation around wherever a pipe meets a wall.

A new furnace. Today’s furnaces are much more energy-efficient than they were years ago. If your furnace is 12 to 15 years old or more, you should consider looking at a new one. Upgrading your air conditioning system at the same time can be less expensive than replacing each system separately. Older furnaces may have efficiency ratings of only 60 to 80 percent, but new furnaces can reach efficiency ratings as high as 95 percent. Install a programmable thermostat, too, so you don’t forget to lower the heat when you’re out of the house.

Solar panels. While solar panels won’t keep your home warmer this winter, they can definitely reduce your electric bills. There are a lot of state and local programs that will give you tax rebates or grants to install solar panels. There are also programs that let you lease panels instead of buying them. These are all worth looking into, and solar panels can even increase the value of your home. The best place to start asking for information is with your city or county. Or, talk to someone in your neighborhood about the solar panels on their house!

Curtains and rugs. New, heavier curtains can help keep cold air out from those windows that you haven’t replaced yet, particularly at night when the sun is down. Rugs can help your floors feel a bit warmer, and can retain heat better than tile or even wood floors.

Renovating? If you’re planning a home renovation this winter, making that renovation energy-efficient should be part of the planning process. Any walls or floors being opened up can get insulated. Maybe you can add heated floors to that bathroom and kitchen. Talk to your contractor about adding elements that will make your home cozier!

Of course, all of these improvements come with some initial investment. Fortunately, home prices have risen quite a bit in the past two years, and with mortgage rates still pretty low, this may be a good time to consider a cash-out refinance, a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit to pay for those improvements.

If you have questions on mortgage or home equity loans, join us for our free ONESource webinar scheduled for December 2 at noon. CommonWealth One’s Member Advantage Mortgage Advisor Kristie Cahill will join CommonWealth One Lending Manager Jeff Ince and Certified Financial Counselors Emmanuel Obe and Hector Bosch to answer any questions you may have.

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