Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line,

I love the winter. But now that it has cooled down quite a bit here in the valley, I've found that my heating bill has tripled since last month. I am on a tight budget and I would like some information on how to reduce my energy bill without freezing out my family. Can you give me any advice on saving money and energy during this time of the year?

Dear Reader,

I can definitely understand your situation. When the temperature drops, we all scramble inside to stay warm and for many fortunate folks, this can mean a very expensive winter.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, average household spending for heating oil and natural gas could increase as much as 19 percent this winter compared to last. In preparation, Better Business Bureau serving Central California has a checklist to help consumers get their home ready for the colder months ahead, while also cutting back on unnecessary energy costs:

*Furnace. Have your unit inspected to make sure it is in safe, working order. Additionally, check to see that the furnace filter is clean, the thermostat is working correctly and the pilot light is functioning.

*Heating ducts. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents. This occurs if duct work is not well-connected, improperly insulated or if air travels through unheated spaces.

*Fireplace. Using your fireplace can keep you from running the heater as often, but make sure the flue is closed when it is not in use. This will keep cold drafts out of your home. If you notice a leak, have your chimney inspected or purchase a screen to cover your fireplace. You should have your chimney or wood stoves inspected annually.

*Gutters and outside pipes. If freezing temperatures are expected, wrap outside pipes and clear your gutters to prevent possible cracking. Any clogs or excess water will expand as they freeze.

*Caulking and weather stripping. Inspect the caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors for cracking and peeling. If you can feel air coming in, it also means heat could be getting out.

Keep in mind, your local gas and energy provider may offer free weatherization for your home. Weatherization programs are designed to lower utility bills and increase comfort in the home. All work is provided at no cost to income-eligible homeowners and renters through programs offered by The Southern California Gas Company, PG&E and other federally funded programs. This is an option you can look into if you fall into their required income bracket.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org.