(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Winter is here, which means people are cranking up the heat in their homes.

Pennsylvania has several programs in place to help those in need during the winter months.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is available for those who qualify. LIHEAP helps families pay their heating bills by sending a one-time payment directly to the utility company/fuel provider to be credited on your bill. Households in immediate danger of being without heat can also qualify for crisis grants. 

Click here for more information on qualifying and applying for LIHEAP.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is reminding electric customers that the start of the new year is a good time to explore ways to conserve energy and save money – including comparing prices for electric generation, evaluating competitive supplier offers and looking at competitive market options such as time-of-use and renewable energy products.

The PUC has some tips for conserving your energy usage this winter:

  • Pay attention to the thermostat – Every degree you raise or lower the temperature could impact energy costs by up to 3%. Also, consider a programmable thermostat to automatically lower temperatures at night or while you are away from home.
  • Keep furnaces and ducts clean – Regular furnace maintenance along with clean filters and ducts help ensure efficient operation of your heating system.
  • Winterize your home – Adding insulation, installing storm windows and doors, and sealing cracks and air leaks can help you stay warmer and use less energy.
  • Check your hot water heater – Temperatures over 120 degrees can be a major power drain.
  • Run full loads – Waiting for full loads in washers and dishwashers can help reduce the use of hot water and limit the amount of energy needed to heat that water.

You can find more tips for saving energy at PAPowerSwitch.com 

Energy.gov also has some tips to help you cut energy costs this winter:

  1. Seek alternatives for saving money on fuel and increasing your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.  That can be as simple as changing your driving habits, using different types of fuel, or even purchasing a more fuel efficient and clean energy vehicle.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat and make sure it is set to the optimal settings. Turning back the thermostat overnight or when nobody is home can potentially save around 10% or more a year on heating and cooling costs.
  3. Check for air leaks and apply caulking and weatherstripping. Even if you have recently taken our advice and done this, double check to make certain no leaks were missed and see if any caulk or weatherstripping needs to be replaced.
  4. Check to make certain the attic is properly insulated. Attics are one of the most important as well as often one of the easiest places in a house to insulate.
  5. Seal and insulate the foundation walls of any unventilated crawl spaces and check for moisture and deterioration problems.
  6. Landscape with water conservation in mind and triple check the sprinkler system schedule to make certain there are no leaks and to optimize water coverage.
  7. Keep the hot water heater at 120°F and install a hot water heater insulating blanket. These two tips can save up to 15% in energy costs.
  8. Ensure any appliances and electronics purchased throughout the year are ENERGY STAR rated, which use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment.
  9. Kill phantom energy loads (aka “vampire power”) by unplugging appropriate electronics and appliances when they are not in use.  
  10. Continue evangelizing how easy it is to save money and energy at home!