How to lower your home heating bills

The mercury is dropping and our home heating bills are climbing.  

A new report from reveals Texas has the highest rate of people struggling to pay heating bills and taking drastic steps to keep the heat on.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Freezing temperatures the biggest threat as winter weather approaches Houston

The report found 27% of Texans surveyed have been unable to pay an energy bill in the last year, 26% kept their home at a temperature that felt unsafe at some point last year, and 37% reduced or went without basic needs, like food or medicine, to pay an energy bill.

"A quarter of people are having to forgo basic necessities just to pay their home energy costs," said Christian Worstell with "It really kind of puts it into perspective."

Mother nature could test our wallets again, but there are ways to reduce energy bills. Set your thermostat a couple of degrees lower.

"Energy Star recommends setting your temperature on your thermostat at 68 degrees and be comfortable with that," said Scott Burns with Reliant Energy. "Every degree above that is 3% to 5 % higher energy usage for heating in your home."

RELATED: Dangerously low temperatures hitting some Houstonians particularly hard

A smart thermostat, which starts at around $40 in hardware stores, lowers the temperature when you're not home.

"The studies that Google Nest have done show about a 12% reduction in energy usage from your HVAC system.  So it’s significant," said  

Close vents and doors to rooms you're not using.  Weather stripping to close air leaks on doors and windows starts at about $6.  

"It was a 10-minute job adding weather stripping below the door to keep cold air from coming in," said Burns.

Set your ceiling fan clockwise to push rising heat back down into the room.  

Close the flue when you're not using the fireplace. Close window coverings at night, but open them during the day to let warm sunlight in. And if you're struggling to pay a bill, contact your energy provider.

"A lot of them will work with you" said Worstell. "Some of them have financing programs where you can defer a payment to a future month."

RELATED: Congress announces nearly $150 million to help Texans with winter heating bills

Assistance for utility bills is available through the following links:

Harris County, TX 
United Way

So many people experienced burst pipes in last year's Big Freeze. Even though winter is here, there are still steps you can take to protect your pipes before another freeze hits.

Many Texas homes weren't built with insulation around the pipes, and perhaps having insulation installed is out of your budget.  

IS TEXAS READY? Questions remain about readiness of Texas’ power grid as temperatures drop

Worstell suggests you can still add some insulation to exposed pipes or the attic at low cost.

"Even just buying some insulation on your own and doing a little that you can," said Worstell. "You’re probably not going to be able to access all the pipes under your house, inside your house. But some of the exposed ones around your water heater and what not, you can access those and buy some material at Home Depot to insulate those a little bit."

You can buy 25 feet of pipe insulation for about $10 in hardware stores.  Rolls of attic insulation start at about $30.

When temperatures freeze, keep sink cabinet doors open to let warm air surround the pipes. You can also drip faucets. Drip the bathtub furthest from the street, so that water flows through the system. Flush toilets every few hours.

Unscrew hoses on outdoor faucets. You can use a Styrofoam cover, or even a Styrofoam cup, to cover the faucet to help keep the cold out. If the temperature stays below 32 degrees, you may want to turn the water off to your house, which is usually in a box in the ground near the curb, so that pipes won't burst when they thaw. You can buy a key to turn off the water for about $10.