What's the quickest, cheapest way to cut your heating bills?

Turn down your thermostat five to 10 degrees. Turn it way down at night and sleep with an electric blanket, which uses relatively little energy. And, turn it down any time you're away from home for more than an hour or so.

David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance maintains that "without any capital investment you can save about 15 to 30 percent of your energy just by turning down the thermostat."

A thermostat, which you probably already have, can be a real money saver. The president has decreed that public buildings should have thermostats set at 65 degrees, and this should be your initial goal.

If you have the thermostat set at 65 during the day, you should be able to put it down to 55 at night. And, when you leave the home empty to go to work or shop or visit, turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees. Turn it down, way down, as far as you can stand it.

If your home is fairly well insulated, says Henry Bartholemew of the Department of Energy, you can turn your thermostat down to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night and save a lot of money. It won't take to much to reheat your home in the morning. But, with a poorly insulated home, it would take a lot to reheat the place and you probably wouldn't save much money trying to turn the thermostat way down.

There are three basic types of thermostats.

The simplest and cheapest is the type that just maintains the temperature at or near whatever you choose as a setting. At night, when you want to turn the heat down to save money, you have to reset the thermostat manually. In the morning you have to get up early, shivering, and reset the heat so you'll be able to drink your coffee without your teeth chattering on the cup.

Then there's the simple daytime, nighttime "setback" thermostat. You set it at 65 degrees during the day and 55 at night. At 11 o'clock, or whenever you go to bed, the thermostat automatically sets itself back to 55.

An hour before you get up in the morning, the thermostat automatically sets the heat back up to 65. But, if you go out to work during the day, you have to set the thermostat down and turn it back up again manually when you come home.

This inconvenience led to the thrid type of thermostat, which can deliver a multiple setback schedule. When you go to work, it automatically sets itself back. A half hour to an hour before you return, it sets itself up to 65 again. This multiple set back thermostat costs anywhere from $60 to $75 installed.

But, a theremostat is no good if it's not calibrated correctly. If you set it at 65 and the heat won't turn on until the temperature drops to 60 or won't turn off unitl it rises to 72 or 74, you're wasting money and are quite uncomfortable.

It only takes 20 minutes or so to check and recalibrate a thermostat but the job needs to be done by a pro. If you're getting wide fluctuations in temperature, call your heating contractor or energy company to come have a look at the thermostat. If they're at your place for some other reason, have them check the thermostat just to make sure it's not robbing you.