As one of the biggest users of energy in the home, your furnace or boiler deserves some attention as our heating system begins. For oil burners, they should receive a yearly tune-up. This should include a cleaning of the inside of the heater. Even a thin layer of soot can reduce efficiency by about 15 percent - costing you $150 of every thousand dollars that you spend on oil! Gas burning heaters may not need to be cleaned or adjusted as often. All heaters should have regular safety inspections, including flue pipes and chimneys. In addition, all homes should have smoke and carbon dioxide detectors. Make sure these are in good working order. Hot air systems should have filters checked and changed as needed. A clogged filter will increase your heating bills. A wide range of filters is available. The cheapest ones are not very effective; better quality filters can improve indoor air quality, but need to be checked and changed more often. For hot water systems, make sure the radiators or baseboard units are filled with water. Trapped air pockets can reduce performance. Consider getting an automatic setback thermostat. This can lower the temperature at set times when the home is not occupied, or at night. If buying a new heater, look for a high efficiency model. The most efficient models have efficiencies at 95 percent and above, but are most appropriate for the coldest parts of New Jersey, in the northwest. Heaters with lower efficiencies, in the range of 85 to 90 percent, are suitable for most other parts of the state. These units, too, are considerably more efficient than most heaters build before the mid-1980's. Hot air furnaces have an average life span of about 25 years, so early replacement may not be a bad idea. It will cost several thousand dollars to replace an old heater, but you can think of this as an investment. While fuel savings will vary, it is not unusual to see a yearly return of 15 percent on the cost of installing a new furnace. This is much better than what a savings account pays, and is not taxable. And dollar savings go up as fuel costs increase. For additional details on energy savings, contact your utility company. Most utility companies have good booklets on ways to save energy.