The weather is getting a bit colder, and it's time to drop your storm windows along with those falling temps.

Matt Neumann, store manager at Ace Hardware at Miracle Mile, said the main goal is to keep the freeze out of your home. That means eliminating drafts and protecting your pipes. "The clear plastic you put on your windows, that's a big item this time of year," he said.

Another is the spigot covers for your outdoor faucets. "That water will actually freeze in the pipes and can cause extreme water damage if not taken care of right away," Neumann said. "There are frost-free faucets where the shutoff is inside the house. If not, you should put a cover on."

Whether you're filling holes around cracks or trying to caulk a drafty window, Neumann said there are still great products that can be applied even with the temperatures dropping.

"I recommend Great Stuff," he said. "It's a foam that expands as it dries. Or for a drafty window, I like Zip-A-Way. You can put it on your window and peel it off in the spring."

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Tracy Lauritzen, marketing director with Haley Comfort Systems, agreed that drafts can be a problem for saving energy and money during the winter.

"We have an energy consultant on staff who can look at all of the options available for home improvements," she said. But the No. 1 concern when it comes to keeping warm and saving money during winter, she said, amounts to one simple rule: Change your furnace filter.

"The No. 1 thing we end up looking for in a no-heat situation is a plugged furnace filter," she said. "If you're dusting a lot or have a newly built house, your furnace will move that dust and put it in those filters."

A furnace check can make sure you don't have a gas leak, lengthen the life of your furnace and get it running at peak efficiency for the winter, Lauritzen said. But there are plenty of other heating changes you can make to lower your costs and your energy consumption.

A relatively inexpensive fix for your heating system, she said, is a new thermostat. "The one I would recommend is a programmable thermostat with a remote access," Lauritzen said. They allow you to monitor and control your thermostat settings from anywhere there is Internet access. If you're not at home — or delayed in getting home — you can change the program, she said. And, if there are any extreme changes in your indoor environment due to a furnace failure or broken water pipe, the system can warn you ahead of time.

A slightly longer term investment in energy savings, Lauritzen said, is a geothermal system. "We can see, sometimes, an estimated payback in seven years," she said. "And the best benefit is there's a 30 percent federal tax credit with no cap."

The systems can lower energy costs and usage by 70 percent, she said. And geothermal systems can be installed year around, and can be added to existing buildings as well as new construction. "One of my favorite things about geothermal is you don't have a noisy condenser unit outside the house," Lauritzen said.

Neumann added that keeping your furnace running at peak efficiency — especially with a new filter every month — does more than just save energy and money. "That'll save a lot of stress on the furnace and give you a better environment with fresher air and cleaner air," he said.

Brian Todd is a Rochester freelance writer.