When fall sets in, our heating systems kick into high gear to keep our houses warm. As it gets colder, you want to heat your home in the most efficient way possible, but it can be tough to know the best strategy to use when facts and myths all blend together. Here, we uncover some truths and bust falsehoods about energy saving so that you can stay warm and cozy the efficient way.

Myth: Installing new energy-efficient windows saves 30 to 40 percent on heating and cooling bills.

Although this can be true in some extreme circumstances in which super-leaky single-pane windows are replaced, most homeowners save a mere 10 to 20 percent at best. If you’re concerned about the performance of your windows, there are other steps you can take.

Fact: There are lots of easy ways to prevent heat loss through windows and warm your home with the sun.

Curtains can reduce heat loss in a room by 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. To save energy, close all your curtains at night. During the day, close curtains in rooms that don’t receive direct sunlight, especially if the daylight isn’t needed. In the summer months, it’s a good idea to close the curtains in rooms receiving direct sunlight to keep your home from warming up.

If your windows are drafty or you have single-pane windows, put a thin layer of plastic over them. Your local hardware store likely sells a kit to do this.

Using your storm windows helps your windows perform more efficiently. If you have storm windows, make sure they are lowered on all your windows during the heating season.

While you might not associate winter with heat from the sun, it can warm things up, even in the colder seasons. Remove screens from east- and south-facing windows to let more light in. Keep your screens on the north and west windows to help block the winter wind. While you’re at it, clean your windows to help maximize the warming effect of the sun on your home.

Caulk will also help stop drafts and prevent moisture from entering your home. Get a tube of caulk, a caulk gun, a putty knife, a utility knife and a plastic spoon. Use the putty knife to remove the old caulk from around the window and then clean the window surface for good adhesion. Caulk around the window in a long movement. Try to get the caulk to touch both sides of the gap or crack and then smooth the caulk with the plastic spoon.

While you have the caulk gun loaded, you can also caulk and plug up air leaks where plumbing, electrical wiring and ducting comes through walls, floors and ceilings. This helps prevent drafts and keeps your energy dollars in your home.

Myth: Use your fireplace to keep your home toasty.

Although fireplaces are great for creating ambiance, they aren’t an efficient way to heat your home. The damper must be opened to vent smoke away, which can take a toll on the energy efficiency of the house. An open damper sucks warm air out of your home and pulls in colder air through gaps and cracks. If you do use a fireplace to create ambiance, make sure the damper is closed as soon as possible after use.

Fact: Change your furnace filters regularly to save 5 to 15 percent on your heating bills.

Although the filters are so easy to change, this important aspect of home maintenance is often overlooked. Clogged air filters restrict airflow, decreasing the efficiency of your furnace. Changing filters can also help extend the life of your heating equipment by reducing wear and tear. Most furnace filters need to be changed monthly during the heating season.

Myth: Running the bathroom exhaust frequently and for long periods of time is the best way to prevent moisture issues.

Although they are great at exhausting fumes, odors and excess moisture, exhaust fans also allow heated air to leave your home in the winter. When they have done their job, turn them off. Leaving the bathroom door open after showering can also help keep moisture levels down.

Fact: Installing foam gaskets on outlets and switches can help prevent drafts.

This is especially important on outside walls with little insulation. On cold days, you might be able to feel cold air blowing out from the receptacle. Buy foam gaskets at your local hardware store for this simple energy upgrade. All you need to do is turn off power to the outlet, use a screwdriver to remove the face plate, and put the foam in place. Then, reinstall the face plate or switch and turn the power back on. To further seal your outlets, get plastic plugs for childproofing outlets and plug up any outlets that you don’t use regularly. Although this might not completely block drafts coming in through electrical fixtures, it will help.

Myth: Programmable thermostats always save energy.

Home energy experts often recommend replacing non-programmable thermostats with programmable ones. Although they certainly have the potential to save energy, it depends on how they are used. You can save 10 percent on heating and cooling energy use by cutting back your temperature setting by 7° to 10°F for eight hours per day from its typical setting. When you leave the home for the day or go to bed at night, turn down the thermostat to save energy. With programmed settings, programmable thermostats make it easier and more comfortable to keep your HVAC system running less when you aren’t home or while you sleep. They also help make your home more comfortable by allowing you to turn the heat up just before you need it. If programmable thermostats aren’t used to turn the heating and cooling system down whenever possible, however, they don’t save energy.

Now that you’ve learned how to best heat your home efficiently, how about your office? In “4 Tips to Create an Energy-Efficient Office,” we’ll tell you how to do just that.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.