Whether it’s a few flips of the calendar or it’s that dull ache in the back of your head, winter is never that far away. For Chicagoans, the cold months can bring big bills as we crank up the thermostat to fight the chill. Fortunately, there are other, less expensive ways to insulate yourself – and your wallet – from winter’s bite.

By the end of September most homeowners will have started to give serious thought to their winter heating costs, according to local hardware guru Rich Schauer. His family’s store on Madison Street typically sees a run on such things as window caulking, pipe insulation and other supplies as autumn takes hold in October. Asking your home heating system to go toe-to-toe with Mother Nature can get pricey. Fortunately, Schauer has plenty of reinforcement.

Programmable thermostats are much more efficient than the old dial-style and, according to a federal agency that rates such things, can save you a bundle on heating and cooling costs. Energy Star, a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, rates household appliances. A programmable thermostat with an Energy Star rating can save you $180 a year in energy costs.

Drafty windows can make it tough to keep the heat in and the cold out, but there are a number of options, according to Schauer. Short of replacing the window, shrinkable plastic will help seal the window and does the job at a cost of about $11. Removable caulking, which is applied just like regular caulking, is another “quick fix” during the winter months, said Schauer.

Exterior doorways can be buttoned up with a little weather stripping, which will run anywhere from $3 to $6 per door. Draft blockers, which are placed at the bottom of the door, have also become increasingly popular in the last two years, according to Schauer.

Water pipes can be insulated to protect against freezing, and to cut down on utility bills. Both foam insulation and electric cables will do the trick. It’s also a good idea to wrap your water heater, said Schauer.

Crawl spaces help set the tone for the air in your house. Using a space heater to circulate warm air through a crawl space protects pipes against freezing and helps heat the house.

Owners of older homes, said Schauer, may also want to consider larger projects such as adding new insulation to the building and replacing old windows. In the homeownership industry, green in the wallet still trumps green in the environment, said Schauer, but there’s little doubt that will have to change.

“There are a lot more people doing this. I don’t think the whole eco-thing is a fad anymore,” Schauer said. “It’s not going to go away.”