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Mary Hunt

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the typical U.S. family spends at least $2,200 a year on home utility bills, almost half of which goes toward heating and cooling.

If your home has a fireplace with a flue that is not adequately weatherstripped, it's like leaving a door or window open. You're losing expensive warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer. Today's first reader has a terrific recommendation for how you can easily take care of this problem and pocket some serious energy savings in the process.

DRAFT DODGER. Last year, I bought two Battic Door Fireplace Plugs. They look a lot like little life rafts. You insert them up against the flue (when the fireplace is not in use) and inflate them to keep warm air from escaping through your leaky chimney damper, sealing out the draft. The difference in our heating bill the month after installing them was astounding. Flues rarely fit snugly, and so much heat is lost up the chimney. I have no affiliation with the company, but I certainly have not been shy about recommending them to my friends. -- Chris

AUTOMATIC SOCK MATCHER. You need: a box of safety pins and a container to keep them where you take your socks off. Remove socks, and join them together with safety pin. Socks will remain together in washer and dryer. Remove them from dryer and they will be already matched and ready to go into the sock drawer. They don't get lost or attached to other items. Think of all the time you've wasted matching socks! -- Jeanne

CARPET REPAIR. I have repaired small damaged places in my carpet using a this technique: I cut out the damaged area of carpet, including the backing. Then I cut a piece of matching carpet the same size, including the backing, and glue that in place. I can't tell where the repair was made. Fortunately, this was carpet we had installed, so we had a scrap piece to get the repair plug from. -- Audrey

TIMERS SAVE ON STANDBY POWER. I use appliance timers to limit standby power. I have a timer on my home computer, printer, router and other peripherals. I have the timer set so that these machines are off when we are asleep or not home. I figure the timer uses less energy than if all the other units were on standby. -- Glen

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DISAPPEARING ACT. I use brown KIWI Shoe Polish Paste in the tin can to hide scratches on wood furniture. Just apply with a soft close, rubbing against and then with the grain. Allow it to dry, and buff. It works really well! -- Cathy

FROZEN MILK SAVES. Living alone, I was constantly throwing away milk because it spoiled before I could drink it. I decided to fill empty 8-ounce water bottles with milk and freeze them, following the guidelines on the Dairy Council of California website page titled "Can I Freeze Milk?" They work great for me. -- Annie

LAUNDERING DOWN PILLOWS. I have had very good luck machine washing my down pillows at home, adapting your guidelines for how to wash a down comforter ( Drying takes some time in the dryer, but they come out nice and fluffy every time. -- Doris.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.