It sounds as though Mainers, young and old, will be colder this winter than usual. I’ve noticed a bit of a “discouraging word” in the recent blurbs about the fuel assistance, which in the past has helped a little for those whose annual income doesn’t quite get up to the much publicized “median” range. For many of us, our Social Security is based on average income from many years ago, not what we would be earning in 2005 if we worked full time. No miracle will happen to change that, so let’s do what we can to be comfortable and stay healthy.

To stave off the approaching cold, let’s do what we can to keep the drafts out of the house. A lot of heat is lost through windows, even when they are shut tight. If there are no storm windows, then help prevent this precious heat loss by covering the windows with plastic. There is a kind of plastic window which can still be seen through, and which is easy to apply on the inside. And thicker plastic (or poly, as it’s called) can be put on the outside. If you can’t reach the windows, ask a more limber relative or friend to do this for you.

I put plastic on the inside and use masking tape to tape it to the walls outside the window, extending beyond the window itself. Before I do this, I lock the window and put caulking all around wherever I feel a draft, including around the locks themselves. It doesn’t look terrific – this isn’t a Martha Stewart moment – but it works. When I can’t feel a draft anymore, up goes the plastic and tape. And over all of that, thermal-lined drapes or even a quilt. On windows which are either insulated glass or have storm windows, keep the blinds closed unless the sun is shining through.

Rooms with doors can have the doors closed if no one is in the room. If there is no door, I’ve been known to hang a quilt or blanket over the opening. (This is what we used to do a long time ago, when most of the rooms were not heated.)

Thermostats are turned up only a few hours a day. Every chair has an afghan or throw nearby, which can be used to keep warm, while watching television or reading.

Back in grade school science class, we learned that heat rises. Keeping that in mind, if cold air is getting in at the bottom of doors, it’s pushing the heat to the top of the room, and it’s escaping through the top of the door. So, next, we get rid of the draft at the bottom of the door. Roll up a large towel, or use one of those door “snake” things, or better yet, get a special little piece of rubber and metal, made just for the bottom of a door. This is where a knowledgeable clerk in a hardware store will be especially helpful. These “sweeps” are easy to put on and work slick. Also, get a package of felt weatherstrip and arm yourself with a hammer and some tiny nails and put the weatherstrip on the door frame itself. There are easy to follow instructions with the package.

Take your handy role of duct tape (only $1 at our local dollar-saving store) and tape over any drafty places which are not seen by anyone, but through which cold air enters. In my house, it’s an unused dryer vent hole for a clothes dryer no longer here.

Now, as you sit down to rest from all of that energy expended, here are some other things to check, in order to save – do you have a small thermometer? Check the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. Look at your booklet that came with the appliance and keep it set at the suggested temperature. Refrigerators use about 20% of the electricity in most households. Cover things when you cook on top of the stove. Learn to use the microwave. Wash dishes once a day, preferably by hand.

Before the bad weather starts, get a bucket and have someone fill it with salted sand and keep it by your door – inside, not outdoors where you’ll have to cross ice to get to it. Keep a cover over it, and use an empty coffee can for a dipper. Yes, in an emergency you can use kitty litter, but it’s a mess when it gets wet. Make sure you have a supply of window washer, and can find the brush for your windshield. Keep an old broom handy for sweeping snow away from the front of the door, and keep your house number clearly visible.

While you’re at that dollar-saving store getting duct tape, pick up some extra batteries (4 D-batteries are only $1) for your flashlights. Make sure that you have some spares. Make sure you have batteries for the smoke detectors, too. Remember where your candles are and put some wooden matches near them and something safe to put the candles in.

There are a lot of things we can do ourselves, easily, to help save on the cost of heating fuel and electricity. Many of us already do this, but it never hurts to be reminded. Winter will be more than a “challenge” this year for some of us, regardless of what we do, but we really can help ease the situation.

Remember if you’re planning to make an application for fuel assistance, or LIHEAP, the agency will be in Windham in November taking applications. Watch for details of what you need to bring with you, time, place, etc.

And if you’re putting in a new woodstove, or firing up an old one, have the Fire Department come and check it out for safety. This is a free service.

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