updated 8/24/2005 3:46:30 PM ET 2005-08-24T19:46:30

If your small company’s energy bills have been mind-boggling this summer, the fall and winter are likely to bring little relief. And now, before it gets cold, is the best time to take steps to mitigate some of damage from soaring heating bills.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently predicted that heating costs for homes using natural gas or fuel oil could be as much as 25 percent higher this winter than last. Businesses can expect to see a comparable increase.

If your company owns its premises, you have the most control over your heating bills. But commercial renters can also take steps to curb their own energy costs, and keep the place more comfortable as the temperature falls.

Lowering your energy bills means going over your physical plant and all your equipment carefully to see what changes should be made. If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, start with your local gas or electric utility; many utilities around the country offer energy efficiency consultations to their business customers.

The Internet is a big resource for information on energy conservation.

The Web site for the government’s Energy Star program, www.energystar.gov, has a section for small businesses. Energy Star advocates the use of energy efficient equipment, but its site also has tips to help companies lower their energy costs.

Many utilities also have information for small businesses on their sites. Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s business site, for example, www.pge.com/biz, has tips and checklists and also has charts to show the estimated costs of operating a range of business equipment, including lighting.

Electricity costs, of course, matter as much as heating costs. They’re affected by the rising price of the fuels, including natural gas, that are used to run generating plants.

If you’re searching the Internet, don’t bypass sites aimed at consumers, including the federal government’s Energy Savers guide for consumers, www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo; many of the steps that homeowners can take can also apply to small businesses. The same site does have a page for businesses at www.eere.energy.gov/EE/industry.html.

Companies that own their buildings need to have their heating and cooling systems assessed and cleaned, repaired or replaced if necessary. An efficient system uses more energy, and wastes money.

If you’re replacing you furnace or boiler, check with your utility to see if the new one qualifies for a rebate. In Massachusetts, for example, the utility NSTAR is offering small businesses rebates when they purchase certain high efficiency heating equipment. Alliant Energy, a Midwestern utility, offers rebates or incentives on heating and cooling equipment, and also on motion detectors and energy-efficient windows.

The rest of your equipment also needs to be in good repair. If you’re a manufacturer and your conveyor belts or drill presses aren’t running right, they’re also using up cash.

The building itself needs attention. Do you have cracks in the walls or around the windows that are allowing heated air to escape? Is your insulation adequate? Is there a hole in the roof? Should you replace your old single-paned windows with double-paned ones?

Many owners might shudder at the expense of making big repairs. But consider this: You’re already overspending on energy if your premises are leaking warm air (or in the summer, cooler air). And you can amortize the costs of new heating systems and windows (other new equipment might qualify for a Section 179 upfront deduction; check with your tax professional).

And some changes are relatively low-cost, such as installing a setback thermostat, which allows you to lower the temperature of an office when no one’s there and still have the place warm when employees arrive. If you tack clear plastic over windows or put weather stripping under doors to cut down on drafts, that requires a minimal expense.

If you’re a renter, talk to the landlord about changes that are needed — if you don’t pay your own heating bills, you can bring the landlord’s down, which hopefully will lower the amount of fuel costs passed along to you.

If your landlord isn’t cooperative, you can still take steps on your own, such as using weather stripping and caulking to reduce drafts. Keep the blinds and window shades open in offices to let the sun warm the place. The Energy Star Web site has a section with tips for business renters and tenants.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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