The government delivered some comforting news today for anyone bracing for winter and high heating bills. Much of the country will experience a warmer-than-normal winter, and the costs of some heating fuels will fall.

People who use natural gas have the biggest reason to celebrate -- an estimated 13% decrease in their average costs. Those using fuel oil won't be so lucky; their costs will creep up about 6%.

It's reason to celebrate, but the news also reveals how little control we have over unpredictable weather and volatile energy costs, which can leave winter heating bills as a big question mark in the family budget. However, that doesn't mean homeowners are totally powerless.

Get some control over winter heating bills by literally plugging the leaks, a simple step that can save quite a few dollars. The Department of Energy estimates that the potential savings from reducing leaks and drafts can range from 5% to 30% of energy costs each year.

Look for leaky spaces around doors and windows, electrical outlets and switch plates, attic hatches, and air conditioners mounted in the wall or window. If daylight is visible around a door or window frame, the space can be sealed with weatherstripping. Foam can fill other gaps inside the house.

Heat can also be lost through gaps around mail slots, and pipes or wires that run outside the house. Make sure the gaps are caulked and the caulk or weatherstripping is in good condition.

And check heat ducts for evidence of leaks, particularly around the seams. They can be sealed with a special tape. Ironically, you shouldn't use duct tape. It won't survive the temperature fluctuations and will quickly come unstuck.

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