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Affordable Housing Guide For Winter

Winter is coming, and surviving the chill can be a real concern for people with limited incomes. Cold weather means higher heating costs and potential damage to homes and makes it more challenging to move around, especially people with no cars and limited access to public transportation.

Getting through the winter can be a challenge, but there is help out there, and you can make the challenge easier if you prepare and take advantage of programs designed to help you. We've collected some helpful tips on keeping warm and reducing costs as the temperature drops, along with lists of programs and sources of assistance to help you if you can't meet the bills. There are programs out there to help you pay the rent if you can't afford it, or to provide Christmas dinner and toys to children who would otherwise be getting nothing.

Links to programs discussed here are listed at the end of the article.

Weatherizing Your Home
Weatherizing your home involves making your home more energy efficient, and starts with plugging up the drafty places where heat escapes and cold creeps in. Some of these tips can be easy and inexpensive, and some can seem almost as difficult and expensive as rebuilding your home from scratch. For purposes of this article, we look at the easier and cheaper things you can do to maximize the heat and keep down the costs.

If you rent an apartment in a building, there aren't too many things you can change. The apartment units surrounding yours act as insulation all their own, so really, your only concern is to weatherize the outside-facing windows. You can do this easily by installing inexpensive plastic film to cover the windows. You can buy a small window film kit from a hardware store for a few dollars that will reduce the energy loss through drafty windows.

If you are a homeowner, the government may provide some assistance through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The program will provide an average of $6,500 in aid for weatherization improvements for your home, such as weather-stripping windows, upgrading a furnace or installing additional insulation. The exact requirements vary from state to state but are usually based on financial need. If you are already enrolled in Social Security Supplemental Income or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, you probably qualify.

If you qualify for a weatherization program, you can apply for an energy audit. Experts will come to your home and test to determine the most cost-effective methods to reduce your heating costs. Options include replacing your furnace, adding insulation, installing storm doors and windows, etc. The government program will provide you with a small grant and some tax rebates.

The government also offers an assistance program for low-income families to help with heating bills, called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Other Ways To Reduce Energy Costs
Homeowners and renters can both benefit by insulating windows with plastic film. You can also just turn down the thermostat and dress warmly indoors. A cooler house means a lower heating bill. If you're watching TV or reading a book, wrap yourself in a warm blanket or cuddle up with a loved one.

Rationing your energy use will free up your money to use for heating. Taking shorter showers and rationing hot water will help reduce your energy costs, as will simply unplugging unnecessary appliances. Don't use appliances if you don't need them. Appliances such as coffee makers, blenders, computers, and video gaming consoles all cost electricity. Putting appliances on power strips and turning the strip off at night or when you're not using the appliances reduces your "phantom load" (the power appliances use even when off) and can make a real difference in your bill. Convert your existing light-bulbs to efficient LED bulbs to decrease your lighting costs.

Homeowners can reduce their energy expenditures by reducing their water heater temperature to 120 degrees and insulating their water pipes and water heater with ready-made insulation sleeves found in hardware stores. If you have to mix cold water with your hot tap to get it cool enough to touch, you're wasting money. Changing your furnace filter will produce more efficient heating and lower fuel consumption. You can plug up drafty gaps below doors with a rolled-up towel to keep in the heat. You can also turn off or turn down the thermostat when you leave the house. Yes, coming home to a toasty home is lovely, but paying to heat an empty home is foolish. Additionally, don't set the thermostat any higher than the temperature you need it to be, say, 68 degrees. The house won't heat up any faster if you set the thermostat higher. A programmable thermostat can pay dividends, especially if your home is empty much of the time, and some utility companies will even provide them free of charge!

One simple thing you can do to heat your home in the evening is to use your oven to roast or bake. Not only will you provide good food for the next day or two, but the heat from the oven will warm your home for hours.