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During the cold winter months, homeowners in most of the country find it necessary to turn on the heaters to keep warm. You can save energy when heating your home by taking the time to winterize for maximum energy savings.
Create a Winter Plan
Due to increasing energy costs, winter heating will consume an increasingly larger portion of a household’s energy budget. That’s why it’s important to check your home to insure that your heating dollars aren’t being wasted.
The end of summer and the beginning of fall is a perfect time to get your home ready for the ensuing cold-weather months. Use the steps listed below to help formulate a plan to winterize.
Check for Leaks
Weather stripping and caulking are the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to reduce energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10% to 15% of a home’s heating dollars.
- Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping or caulk any holes that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors seal properly.
- If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Remember that replacing windows can be expensive – it could take you quite a while to recover your costs from the energy savings alone.
- Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the walls, ceiling, or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal them all with caulking or weather-stripping.
- Electric wall plugs and switches allow cold air in. Pre-cut, foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate can effectively prevent leaks.
- Don’t forget to close the damper on your fireplace if there is no fire burning. This acts as an open window.
- Examine your house’s heating ducts for leaks. Since you don’t see them every day, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Have damaged ducts repaired or replaced. Duct tape can work for a short time, but after a while, it dries up and becomes useless.
Check Your Insulation
Insulation reduces the heat flowing out of your home during the winter months. Ensuring that your home is properly insulated will help your save energy when the temperatures drop.
- Insulate your attic. In older homes, thin can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Prior to energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, a large amount of heat is lost through walls, floors, and ceilings. The amount of insulation that you should install depends upon where you live. Insulation is measured in R-values, or the resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the less resistant the product is to heat flow. Ask the salesperson at your local hardware store about the recommended R-values for your location.
- Weather-strip and insulate your attic hatch or door to prevent warm air from escaping out of the top of your house. Since warm air rises, this type of heat escape is common.
- Seal holes in the attic that lead down into the house, such as open wall tops and duct, plumbing, or electrical runs. Any hole that leads from a basement or crawlspace to an attic is a big energy waster. Cover and seal them with spray foam and rigid foam board if necessary.
Review your Heating System
Autumn is the perfect time to perform routine maintenance on your home’s heating system to ensure that it is running efficiently and effectively during the winter.
- Replace your heater’s air filter monthly. Since your heater will have to work less hard, it will run more efficiently. Cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters will have the same effect.
- If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it. A pre-1977 gas furnace is probably 50 percent to 60 percent efficient today. Modern gas furnaces, on the other hand, achieve efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent. Replacing an old heating system can cut your natural gas use nearly in half!
- Use your set-back thermostat if you have one. If you don’t have one, get one. A set-back thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you’re away at work or when you’re sleeping. you can then boost the temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day. Using a set-back thermostat can cut heating costs from 20% to 75%.Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.
- Make sure all hearing vents are opened and unblocked by furniture or other items. This will ensure that the air is evenly distributed through the home.
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Whether you’re cooling off indoors or working on your tan, take the time to perform some simple, routine home maintenance. Rising temperatures and sunny days make summer an ideal season for getting work done around the house. You’ll have a safer home if you catch problems and wear-and-tear before they become hazards.
Keeping Cool Inside
Energy efficiency is a top priority when electricity bills climb as high as the temperatures outside. Hopefully you’ve had your air conditioning system checked in the spring, as repairmen are often busy in the summer and you may have to sweat it out until your appointment.
Ceiling fans provide an energy-efficient way of circulating cool air. Dust them if needed and balance any wobbly blades by tightening loose screws. For additional energy efficiency, check windows and doors for air leaks and seal with weather stripping or caulk as needed. You’re paying for the cool air, so take steps to be sure it’s not escaping outdoors.
Home Exterior Care and Landscaping
Take advantage of the warm weather and wash the outside of your windows and clean the siding. While it might be tempting to use a pressure washer, a garden hose is best to avoid potentially damaging the exterior of your home. Apply a coat of fresh paint if needed, and repair any damaged vinyl or aluminum siding.
Be aware of termites while you’re outside inspecting your home. Termites can easily go undetected until significant damage has been done. Look for telltale signs like flaking wood or mud buildup and tunneling systems in the exterior wood of your home. Professional pest control inspections are recommended if you have any suspicions of possible infestation.
Well-tended landscaping and a trim and tidy house are as welcoming to guests as the smells of a barbeque. Garden beds look their best when mulched and weeded. Summer annuals can be induced to produce more flowers and bloom longer when you deadhead them. Removing spent flowers also prevents the plant from going to seed. Check garden plants, trees, and shrubs for insect infestations. Unhealthy plants should be removed so that others may thrive.
Lush green grass is of course desirable; however, it is not always realistic or water-efficient. Encourage healthy grass growth with regular mowing, but remember: Keeping grass cut longer in the summer months will prevent roots from drying out as quickly.
Grass and plants should be watered in the morning to allow the water to soak through the soil throughout the day in order to completely nourish their root systems. Check to see if your municipality has water conservation restrictions before watering your lawn or garden.
Trees provide shady ambience and should be well cared for to avoid potential damage to your home. Keep their branches pruned and at a safe distance from your home to avoid storm-related damage. Inspect trees for signs of decay, such as cracks or hollowed limbs, and keep branches clear of your home and power lines. Arborists or tree care professionals can assist with the cutting and removal of large or high limbs.
Also, before planting additional trees and shrubs in your yard, take into consideration the plant’s size when mature and whether or not roots might intrude upon underground pipes or paved surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways.
Hazardous materials such as paint and solvents should be disposed of properly. Don’t store heat-sensitive or combustible materials in the garage, as the temperature will be rising throughout the season. Inspect the floor for grease spots from leaking car fluids, and have your car serviced promptly if you find any.
If you have children, instruct them not to go in the garage unaccompanied. Store your hand tools and power tools behind a lock and key. Fertilizers, weed-killers, and pesticides should be stored out of a child’s reach or behind a locked cabinet. You might also consider organic gardening, which employs nontoxic alternatives to these poisonous chemicals.
Driveways And Walkways
Inspect the pavement for cracks and holes, and remedy them. This goes a long way in preventing accidental slips, trips, and falls. It also works to avoid larger repairs or resurfacing in the future. If you see weeds popping up between cracks in the pavement, resist the urge to pull them up. You’ll remove the upper part of the weed, but the root system will remain intact and new growth will return within a few weeks. For a cost-effective and chemical free solution, boil water in a kettle, carefully carry the kettle outside, and pour the water on any weeds to kill them off for the season.
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Here we are, noticing our summer tans fading, dark roots growing out from our scalps, and waiting for the first winter snow fall amidst the freezing rain and blowing wind. Winter is rearing its ugly head and so are heating costs. The television and web are full of great ideas on how to save money on energy costs, but more often than not it takes money to save money. For many, spending money on major home improvement projects to make a home more energy efficient just isn’t in the cards this year.
I am here to tell you that you still have options. You do not have to spend a bunch of money to cut your heating costs. Below you will find nine tips on how to save money on energy bills without breaking the bank. Each tip should cost from nothing to very little. Follow these ideas that all of us should have thought of a decade ago, and say good-bye to shocking heating bills.
- Bundle up! Running around with shorts and a tank top in the middle of winter just doesn’t make much sense. Winter is winter because it is cold, so act like it even if you’re just sitting around the house. Put on a sweater or sweatshirt, wear socks and fuzzy slippers. Place a soft, comfy blanket on the couch to cuddle up in while watching TV, reading or chatting with friends. Put throw rugs on hardwood and tile floors to eliminate the shock of the ice cold surfaces. It doesn’t cost anything to wear warmer clothes inside and by doing so you can keep the temperature inside the house a few degrees cooler and save big.
- Not all doors are used in the winter, nor are the windows, so plastic up the windows and doors that are going to go unused. There are window kits for sale for about $5 per window. These can help to eliminate drafts to keep in the heat! Can’t afford the kits or plastic sheeting? Hang blankets to help insulate! If you are creative enough, you can hang it to look shabby chic!
- Turn the heat down at night and when no one is home. This doesn’t mean turn the heat to 40 degrees, but turning it down to 60 overnight or while you’re away can make a big difference. Think about it; why keep it 70 degrees when you’re either sleeping or out of the house for more than 12 hours a day? You can adjust the thermostat manually for free, but if you want to spend a few bucks a programmable thermostat is a great investment.
- After baking cookies or making dinner in the oven, leave the door open a crack. There’s a lot of heat in that oven, so letting it escape puts the heat to good use by warming up the kitchen and surrounding rooms meaning the furnace has to run a little bit less.
- Use a space heater only in the current room you are hanging out in. This will take the nip out of the air to make you feel more comfortable without heating all of the other rooms in the house and wasting energy.
- Use silicone to fill any cracks in doors, windows, etc, including the basement floor and walls. You would be surprised at how much heat is lost through cracks that seem insignificant. A tube of caulk or silicone will only run you a few dollars and it’s an easy weekend project.
- Close any vents going to rooms that are not used regularly. That guest room that sits empty when you don’t have any guests? Close the door and the vents. Doing so can easily cut 100-200 square feet off of your energy footprint.
- Put weather stripping around windows and doors. Weather stripping helps quite a bit, especially in older homes. You’d be surprised how the seals around your doors and windows can deteriorate over time.
- Cover up the attic entry with plastic, pieces of insulation, old blankets, weather stripping, saran wrap, painter drop cloth, or even a few old shirts. Any of it will help to slow, if not, stop, the drafts and warm air from floating away through your roof. Heat rises and may be getting pulled right up through the attic so you may not notice a cold draft even though your expensive hot air is floating away.
All of these tips are good, old fashioned, common sense thoughts that don’t take but a few minutes and maybe a few dollars to implement. True these thoughts won’t save you thousands like all new windows would, but they will help you to save as much as possible with what you have.
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Fall Maintenance Checklist
Different regions have different kinds of falls. In some places, it’s cool and rainy, and in others, it’s sunny and dry. Often, fall is a time for gathering in the harvest and preparing for festive holidays indoors. No matter what kind of fall you have, these steps can help during the transition from summer to winter.
Inside the home
Fall is a good time to complete indoor projects.
- Repair vinyl and wood floors
- Examine and repair indoor staircases
- Test the furnace to make sure it works properly
- Maintain locks, lubricating as necessary
- Repair and replace caulking in floors and baseboards and around windows and doors
- Remove and replace crumbling caulk around the bathtub, sink, or toilet, and also make sure there is no moisture under the bathtub or shower stall
- Test for radon gas
- Lubricate squeaking doors
- Evaluate insulation
- Have ventilation ducts cleaned, inspected, and repaired
- Check for mice and rats—put out traps in areas pests might sneak into the home
- Patch and paint holes and cracks in walls and ceilings, watch for indications of water damage
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace batteries if needed
- Repair indoor woodwork
- Check the stove exhaust fan and remove dust and grease build-up
- Install plastic sheets on windows that require extra wind protection
- Add weather stripping around doors
Outside the Home
With shorter days and the approach of winter, take some time to check the exterior of your home.
- Check the roof for summer wear and tear
- Clean gutters and downspouts
- Drain the evaporative cooler
- Inspect and service the heating unit
- Repair cracks in siding and shingles
- Repair any damaged masonry
- Insulate water pipes that are exposed to extreme cold
- Cover outdoor water faucets
- Remove screens, clean them, and store away for the winter
- Seal any concrete walkways
- Check exterior ventilation flaps, making sure they are intact and functional
In the Garage
During the fall, take time to prepare your garage for the upcoming winter.
- Protect and cover lawn equipment and garden tools
- Drain lawnmower of gasoline and oil
- Check for leaks in the doors and repair
- Examine and repair the weatherstripping at the bottom of the garage door
In the Yard
The freezing and thawing of the impending winter can cause damage to outdoor furniture and your swimming pool.
- Cover and protect your patio furniture
- Drain the pool
- Trim tree limbs that could break under the weight of snow and ice
In the Garden
With the arrival of fall, you can begin your early garden work and check any grading issues. Keeping landscaping in check can help prevent leaking and foundation damage.
- Trim trees, bushes and other ground cover that may be near the foundation
- Add a protective layer of mulch to your perennials, shrubs, and trees
- Clean flower beds of spent summer blossoms and plants
- Turn the compost
- Remove the garden hose and place inside for the winter