As temperatures drop, get ready for some rising heating costs. Thanks to the one-two punch of colder weather and an increase in fuel prices, U.S. households could see their costs go up as much as 20 percent compared with last year.

The winter of 2017–2018 is expected to be colder than last winter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That means higher heating bills no matter what type of fuel you use.

If you heat with natural gas, which nearly half of U.S. households do, plan for a 12 percent jump in your heating costs. The 40 percent of homes that heat with electricity will see an 8 percent rise in heating costs, and homes that use heating oil (5 percent) or propane (also 5 percent) will experience an increase of 17 percent and 18 percent respectively, according to the Winter Fuels Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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.

Step 1: Seal Air Leaks

“Homeowners tend to feel drafts around windows and doors, though the biggest air leaks are typically in attics and basements,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees CR's testing of products for the home. “If you have an easily accessible attic you can check to make sure your insulation is covering the areas where leaks are likely to occur—where the walls meet the attic floor, the access hatch, and around plumbing and electrical fixtures.” 

In basements, look where the foundation meets the framing of the house and where wiring conduits and plumbing enter through the foundation. To stop your losses around windows and doors, you can plug those holes with a combination of weatherstripping, caulk, or expandable foam.

Professionals perform a blower door test to identify air leaks. But 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 or smart 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 save you $50 a year or more on your energy costs, according to Energy Star, meaning the thermostat could pay for itself in a few years, depending on which model you choose.

More on Thermostats

We recently tested more than a dozen smart thermostats that allow you to remotely control your thermostat via your smartphone or computer. They work in various ways: Some track your temperature preferences and use that data to optimize your heating and cooling schedule. Others have multiple sensors that monitor temperatures in various parts of the home for more balanced heating or cooling. For more information, see our thermostat buying guide.

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, as recommended by the Department of Energy.

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. (Learn about the 14 filters you should be changing at home.)

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 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.