Looking for ways to save a few bucks on your gas, electric, or heating bills? We secured a DTE Energy expert to help show us how, and also maximize the savings.

In fact, over the next five days, I'll be looking at ways to save on utility bills and share them with you here at www.fox17online.com. Make sure to watch FOX 17 News at Ten Saturday and Sunday for energy saving tips, and again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on FOX 17 News at Six! In this first part, DTE Energy expert Herman Kozub explains the importance of keeping the furnace filters clean and how we can save money with programmable thermostats.

There are basically two types of furnace filters we examined. First, the cheap, inexpensive kind that will trap the bigger dirt particles, pet hair, and the like from recirculating back through your house. Be advised, these filters should be changed as frequently as every 30 days, perhaps a bit longer if they look pretty good. Remember, dirty filters rob your furnace of its ability to function at maximum performance if air can't circulate freely through the system. If you don't know or never thought about it, there are return vents (called cold air return vents) all around your house that literally suck air from around the house, run it through the furnace, heat it, then spit it back out through the heat vents. As as result, you can see how a clean filter would be directly tied to furnace performance in a such a closed system. It goes without saying that a clean filter will also keep the air you breathe cleaner as well. So this becomes increasingly important for those with allergies or asthma.

The other type of furnace filter is typically the more expensive one. They may last longer, but DTE says they can cycle your furnace on/off more if not replaced at normal/regular intervals. They can actually cause less air reduction going through the heat exchanger and produce the "cycling" effect. 

If you want to maximize the efficiency of your furnace, DTE will give DTE customers a $50.00 rebate to have an "efficiency" tune up on your furnace, so there is free money available. The catch is you must be a DTE customer and use one of their approved contractors. Click here for the approved HVAC contractor list, and click here for more in formation on the furnace tune up and rebate. Remember, other utility companies (like Consumers) may have similar rebates, so make sure to check with your particular service provider.

One of the other items that can save money is a simple programmable thermostat. These are available at several stores (including Meijer, Walmart, and the home improvement stores). A programmable thermostat allows you to automatically dial up/down with the heating/cooling system. Fox example, if everyone in the household is typically gone to work/school between 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM, why not set the temperature down a few degrees since the house is empty anyway? You can set it to warm back up before you return home. DTE says it is a myth that the furnace has to work harder and longer to get back to your comfortable temperature. You can save about three percent on your home heating for every degree your dial down below 72. Again, this also becomes very useful in the summertime when cooling the house as well. Programmable thermostats can be obtained starting around $40.00, or DTE Energy has another deal for their customers. Click here for an applicable rebate when you purchase a programmable thermostat. These thermostats are easy to install and can generally be done in about 15 to 20 minutes. 

For what it's worth...gas has a major price advantage over electricity when it comes to heating. Whether it's water, clothes drying, air, and the like. As an example, heating the exact same amount of water will cost you about 75 cents with electricity versus only 26 cents with natural gas. It may be worth considering a changeover to natural gas in the future when it comes time to replace the dryer, stove, hot water tank, or electric heaters. The initial cost of these items will likely be slightly higher, but will pay for itself many times over in the long haul.

Coming up on FOX 17 News at Ten Sunday night, DTE Energy expert Herman Kozub will share some tips on hot water tanks/heaters, humidifiers, water recirculators, faucet aerators, and low flow shower heads. And don't forget about our Project Warmth contest going on through the entire month of February. We'll give you 300 dollars to help pay your heating bill. Get all the details by clicking here.