(BPT) - The winter months are here! While you may be preparing to celebrate the holidays and spend time with loved ones, it’s also important to ensure your home is protected from the cold weather.

There are several ways to lower your heating bill and protect your home this winter. Below are five easy projects for first-time home buyers that make a big impact.

1. Change air filters

Easiest to do, easiest to forget. A clean air filter provides healthy air quality and savings on your energy bill. Regularly changing an old air filter can reduce energy costs by permitting air to flow more easily through the HVAC system, according to the Department of Energy. Fresh air filters are also important for the long-term health of your HVAC system. Keeping this system clean can prevent costly repairs and it creates healthier air quality for your family. This project benefits your wallet both now and later down the road.

2. Upgrade your thermostat

A smart programmable thermostat can save you up to $180 a year on utility costs, according to EnergyStar. This thermostat works by automatically raising or lowering the temperature in your home to keep it consistent, which saves fuel. For example, you can program most thermostats on a mobile app to keep your home at a lower temperature while you’re away during the day, and warm back up again at night.

3. Inspect doors and windows

Keep pesky drafts at a minimum this season. Set aside time to look at all the windows and doors in your home and check for gaps. Fill any gaps you find with simple caulk work and replace any worn doorstops to help prevent unwanted air from flowing in or out of your home. This step helps insulate your home and generate energy savings.

4. Clean your gutters

Cleaning your gutters before the snow flies can help you avoid major issues later on. This prevents ice dams, which can turn into a leaky roof. And even if you live in a warmer climate, full gutters are heavy and can cause damage — like mold growth and leaks — by pulling away from your house.

5. Seal and protect your water sources

It is important to protect the water sources inside and outside of your home. If you have an outdoor water spigot, be sure to cover the faucet. You can find simple-to-install covers at most local hardware retailers. Empty out your water hoses and bring them inside so they don’t freeze and become damaged. On those below-freezing nights, let your indoor faucets drip to maintain a flow of water and prevent your pipes from bursting.

Taking small steps to protect your home now can save money and prevent you from dipping into your emergency fund. “We believe homeownership makes lives better.” Said Jason Langston, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing for Vanderbilt Mortgage. “Vanderbilt is committed to educating all customers, both who are buying a home or living in their own home, so they thrive in homeownership.” Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance has even more financial and homeownership tips on its website to make sure every home owner is able to enjoy freedom in their home.

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