Government cuts subsidies to homeowners for energy improvement

A federal program that helped 9 billion households pay their energy bills in 2010 is being cut, leaving many families with questions about how to keep their homes warm, especially as the cost of doing so is expected to surge this winter.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers financial support to homeowners who are struggling financially. The subsidy helps families pay their heating bills, solve energy crises, support weatherization efforts and pay for energy-related home repairs.

LIHEAP is intended to keep individuals, especially children and the elderly, safe in their homes. During periods of extreme heat or cold, homeowners that are not able to keep their properties at a moderate temperature could be putting the health of their families at risk.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that households in the Northeast will pay record prices for home heating oil – nearly $3.71 per gallon – from October 2011 through March 2012. While the price of natural gas isn't expected to be nearly as high – $1.45 per gallon – many homeowners, especially those in coldest regions of the country, could use financial assistance. Unfortunately, the government cut funding for the LIHEAP program in half this year, to about $2.5 billion. Homeowners who had relied on the subsidy are now needing to adjust.

"We're in a real bind. There's no safety net," Maine homeowner Bill McLaughlin told CNN Money. "We've run through all our savings and if we pay for heat, we have less money for food and medicine. We don't even have our car out on the road."

In order to save money, homeowners like McLaughlin should consider a home inspection that can hone in on areas of the home that may contributing to reduced energy efficiency, such as leaky windows. Families can slash their energy bills simply by instituting low-cost repairs that can last for years.