As temperatures drop, get ready for some soaring heating costs. Thanks to the one-two punch of colder weather predicted for this winter and a surge in fuel prices, U.S. households could see their costs go up as much as 50 percent compared with last year. Fortunately, there are steps homeowners can take to offset these rising prices. Having your heating equipment serviced by a professional is the best place to start. From there, follow this step-by-step guide from the experts at Consumer Reports.

First the bad news. Homeowners who heat with oil will see the biggest increase in fuel prices, from $992 last winter up to $1,370 in 2016 to 2017. If temperatures are 10 degrees colder than expected, the cost increase could go from 38 percent to 56 percent. Natural gas households should expect to spend just under $900 throughout the season, a 22 percent jump from last year, and costs of propane will go up 26 percent, to between $1,272 and $1,991, depending on the region. Electric heat will see a modest 5 percent increase, to an annual cost of $995.

Step 1: Seal Air Leaks

If you add up all of the leaks around windows, doors, and other openings in your home’s envelope, it’s like having an open window. To stop your losses, plug those holes with a combination of weatherstripping, caulk, or expandable foam.

Professionals perform a blower door test to identify air leaks. You can try a low-tech version by turning on all of your home’s exhaust fans and holding an incense stick near windows, doors, and electrical outlets. If the smoke blows sideways, you have a leak that needs plugging.

Step 2: Set Your Thermostat

If you haven’t upgraded to a programmable thermostat yet, this is the winter to do so; see our thermostat ratings for the best models on the market. The device will automatically lower the heat when you’re asleep or away from home. That can lower your heating costs by as much as 20 percent, meaning the thermostat could pay for itself in a year or two, depending on which model you choose. For optimal efficiency, set the temperature to 68° F or lower when you’re home and awake, and set it back to 60° F all other times.

Step 3: Check the Filters

This tip applies to homes with forced-air heating. If you have the system professionally serviced, filter replacement should be included. But for optimal efficiency, you need to replace the filter every few months, so it pays to know how.

First turn off the furnace. Then remove the existing furnace filter, located just inside the furnace or return air vent. Note the furnace filter size printed on the cardboard frame. Purchase a replacement filter from a home center, hardware store, or online retailer. Check our whole-house air filter ratings for recommended models that are best at trapping dust, pollen, smoke, and other airborne particulates.

Slide the new filter into place; check for the markings that tell you which side of the filter should face the furnace. Keep a record of the date so that you’ll know when it’s time to change the furnace filter again. Replace any cover that goes over the filter.

This is also a good time to make sure the warm-air registers throughout your home aren’t blocked by furniture, because that will make the system run less efficiently, driving up your utility bills. 

These steps can combine to easily erase the price increase in home heating fuel. There are many other behavioral changes you can make, for example opening curtains on any south-facing windows during the day to allow the sunlight to warm your home, and keeping your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning.