Next winter's home heating costs could be just as high as this year's, according to early predictions from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The April report from the EIA indicates that it will be awhile, if ever, before natural gas prices return to levels seen one year ago.

"One of the simplest ways to save energy is to install a programmable thermostat to automatically change your home's temperature based on your schedule and lifestyle," said Sean McCarthy, Director of the Aprilaire(R) Center for Indoor Air Comfort. "And, now is the time to take steps to reduce your utility costs, before summer cooling bills start rolling in."

Studies show using an electronic, programmable thermostat can save up to 18 percent on your heating and cooling costs.

Some homeowners believe a programmable thermostat will be too difficult to operate. That may have been true in the past, but today's models are much easier to use, according to McCarthy.

"If you have never been in the habit of changing the temperature while you sleep or when you're away, you'll be surprised at the energy savings a programmable thermostat can achieve," McCarthy said.

"For instance, raising your thermostat setting by just one degree this summer can save five percent of the energy used by your air conditioner. The suggested thermostat setting for summer energy savings is 78 degrees. Likewise, lowering your thermostat setting just one degree during the heating season can save as much as three percent on your heating bill. During the heating season, a daytime setting of 68 degrees and a nighttime setting of 55 to 60 is suggested."

When selecting a programmable thermostat, The Aprilaire Center for Indoor Air Comfort recommends purchasing one that is accurate, has easy-to-understand programming instructions, is simple to override as needed, and has a back-up power source.