The winter can get cold, regardless of location. For homeowners all across the U.S., this time of year is when the heat gets turned up and energy bills start to rise. However, there are many possibilities when it comes to affordable, effective heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and these components should be cleaned and maintained regularly so they're performing at their peak.

Every owner should have a home inspection completed. When it comes to HVAC systems, checking for problems can be the difference between expensive fixes and a cold house or a fine-tuned operation. Therefore, a licensed professional can help identify a number of concerns all around a property.

Save money during the winter

The coldest months of the year equal the highest energy bills. While this is often an unavoidable fact of homeownership, there are steps one can take to avoid wasting money. For starters, a property inspection can figure out where any energy leaks are, so hot air stays inside. Also, a professional can inspect HVAC systems to make sure they are working well, and energy and money isn't being flushed down the drain.

In addition, the thermostat can be a big help for any homeowner. According to Laura Coffey, a contributor for MSNBC, turning down the thermostat could actually turn up the savings during the winter. A slight drop - say, only 5 degrees or so - isn't very noticeable, but that might end up shrinking the monthly bills. Anytime the house is unoccupied, the thermostat should be turned down as well. All of that hot air doesn't need to be wasted on an empty home.

Moreover, a programmable thermostat could be a smart addition to any HVAC system, Coffey explained. The small upfront cost is worth the savings, and this device can control the entire house and put all heating and cooling on a set schedule.

Problems to watch out for

Even if a homeowner is smart about when to turn the heat on, the system itself could still be running inefficiently. A home inspection can be a great way to figure out why.

For starters, the air filters might need replacing, according to HouseLogic. They should be dirt and dust-free, and they are cheap to replace. Also, any ductwork issues could be letting hot air leak. Peeling tape, dirt streaks or dented and collapsed ducts can all be signals of larger HVAC problems that need attention.

Overall, a properly-working HVAC system is a must any time of the year. Homeowners who want to heat efficiently during the winter should stay up-to-date with regular maintenance.