All across the country leaves are turning, the sun is setting earlier, and the crispness of autumn is now at hand. It’s a beautiful time of year, but it is also the time when your monthly utility expenses start to creep up. Whether you use central heating or space heaters throughout the house you are going to have to start turning them on to combat those chilly nights. And if your insulation isn’t up to snuff, your wallet will feel it. You can remember to close the doors when you leave a room and even put on an extra layer instead of turning up the thermostat, but that may not be enough. The average household’s utility bill is almost 50% heating and cooling expenses, and proper insulation is the key to keeping those costs under control. Here are five tips to help you improve the insulation in your home.

First off, consider hiring a professional from your utility company to come in and perform a home energy assessment. That person will give you all sorts of advice on how to improve your energy efficiency, and it will all be useful. But one of the key tasks they will perform you can also do on your own, and that is seeking out all problem areas in your home. This is hugely important if you live in an older house that has ‘personality’. Walls and floors settle and sag over time, and many older attics don’t have any sort of insulation at all. Hot air is still forced into these areas from your furnace, but that hot air just goes right outside. Find any spots that need construction assistance or added insulation and take care of it.

Next, double check that your insulation has the proper R-value for your needs. The R-value is the industry standard that defines an insulation material’s resistance to the flow of heat. The higher that number, the better the insulation. Check with your hardware store or with a contractor that you trust to determine the R-value of your insulation, and make sure it is a fit for your region’s climate and your existing heating equipment.

At this point, it is time to examine all of the doors and windows. In houses old or new there could be gaps, which allow that expensive heated air to fly right outside. You don’t want to be heating the neighborhood, so seal up anything that needs attention. Your best bet is to use sealing materials that have been approved by Energy Star, but any weather stripping will do in a pinch. If money is really tight, plastic wrap over the windows sealed with duct tape will get you through the winter just fine.

Next it is time to check out the open ducts and vents in your home. Even in recently constructed homes the duct and vent system will lose about 20% of the heat pushed through it. That has nothing to do with your furnace and everything to do with leaks and failing seals. Turn on your heat at a high output and walk the duct system inch by inch to uncover any of those issues.

Finally, consider blinds on the windows that can actually help you insulate the home. You’ll want to find shades that are made from one piece of material, or specific cell shades made to trap in energy. Making sure these shades are drawn on the coldest nights will save as much heat as a full layer of underfloor insulation will, and you’ll certainly notice the difference.