As many of you pointed out when answering our first question of the week, energy and heating costs are a big concern this winter. While we can't stop those bills from coming, we can point you to some places to look for help in lowering your costs. Here are six resources where you can find financial assistance, incentives, and programs to help you save energy and money.

1. The Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). Here you'll find a comprehensive listing of available rebates, loans, grants, and tax incentives for renewable energy technologies and energy efficient improvements, available from your local, state, and federal governments, as well as from utilities.

2. Your state energy office. While your state's resources may be listed in DSIRE, you should also check directly with your state energy office to find out if your state offers any additional rebates or incentives for efficiency improvements or renewable technologies.

3. The EERE Web site. EERE maintains a list of sites offering information on Financial Opportunities for Consumers. In addition to the DSIRE Database mentioned above, there are several resources on financing an energy-efficient home.

4. ENERGY STARĀ®. ENERGY STAR-qualified products use less energy and can save you money. If you need to make a purchase for your home, search for special offers and rebates available from ENERGY STAR partners. You may just find a great deal on an efficient product from a local or national vendor.

5. Your utility. Check directly with your utility and find out if it offers any programs to help with lowering your energy bills. The programs vary, so visit your utility's Web site or call them directly to discuss what's available. Also, if one company doesn't supply both your gas and electric service, be sure to check with both companies to find out the full range of assistance available.

Some of the utility programs out there include:

  • Averaged payment plans, where the estimated energy costs are distributed throughout the year to avoid skyrocketing bills at certain times when usage is higher.
  • Rebates or incentives for purchasing efficient products that may lower your energy bill. Sometimes these rebates can be combined with state or federal incentives to give you an even greater reward for your investment. Be sure the products you purchase meet the requirements to receive the rebate. Eligible products range from efficient lighting to appliances to renewable technologies such as solar or geothermal heat pumps. Check with your utility to find out what rebates are available to you.
  • Time-of-day or off-peak rates, which can be especially useful for people using electricity for home and water heating. These programs allow customers to pay a lower rate at certain times of the day ("off-peak hours," which every utility seems to define a bit differently). Participating in these programs may require some lifestyle changes in order to avoid using appliances during on-peak hours, when you will pay more than the standard rate.
  • Financial assistance. Some utilities offer financial assistance programs for customers who are low-income, who have large families, or who are dependent on certain medical devices.
  • Energy audits. Many utilities offer discounted or even free energy audits to help you determine the best improvements you can make to save money and energy in your home.
  • Heating system maintenance. Some utilities or gas companies offer assistance with servicing your heating system in the fall, to ensure that it is running at top efficiency for the coming winter months.

6. Your city and county governments. Connie was able to get a subsidy to offset the cost of her energy audit. Check with your local governments to find out if they offer similar programs or other assistance.