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Winter Prep: Start on the Inside

By John Kirchner November 4, 2009

Longer nights, colder days, leaves on the ground and footballs flying through the air. Fall is a busy time with kids returning to school, sports and activities getting underway, and all-important winter preparations needing to be completed around your home.

In colder climates the process of heating and maintaining your comfort level can be very expensive, which is why you as a homeowner need to take these steps to stay on budget.

First and foremost, when it comes to heating your house (and yourself), there is no more important tool than your furnace.

Your furnace should be cleaned inside and out on an annual basis. Is this a DIY project? Consider this: While most of us can wipe down the outside of the unit and change the filter — something that should be done monthly, not seasonally — how many of us are really qualified to dig into the electrical and mechanical parts of the furnace? For that reason you should consider contacting a local heating and cooling contractor and having them come in and do a thorough cleaning and tune up of the unit, which could result in a saving of nearly 5 percent on your winter heating costs.

While the professionals are working on the furnace, you should also consider having your air ducts cleaned. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends an air duct cleaning if you see excessive dust and dirt or mold growth in your ducts or (sorry) if you have droppings from rodents or vermin in your system. If any of these criteria apply to your system, you should consider an air duct cleaning service to improve your furnace’s efficiency and the air quality in your home.

As the leaves start to turn this is your signal to get your windows ready for the season. If you have newer, more energy-efficient windows, you shouldn’t have to worry about this step as the storms and screens are a permanent part of the unit. In older homes, the storms are switched out with the screens depending on the season. The storms should have a nice, tight seal with the window frames and should be marked when they are removed in the spring so they find their way back to the proper windows next year.

Another step in preparing your home for winter and improving your energy efficiency is insulating the attic or sealing off the joist space between the attic and the rest of the house. Most of the heat from your home will escape through the attic and roof (heat does rise, after all), so properly insulating can cut your heating and cooling bills dramatically. There are many different types of insulation that can be used, but the most important factor is the r-value — or resistance to heat flow — needed for your climate to ensure maximum insulation. Consult with your contractor or local retailer for details on they type of insulation that best suits your home.

After taking these steps, you’re probably asking yourself, “How do I know this is working?” Well, if you’ve never had a blower door test or energy audit for your home, now might be a great time to call your local energy provider to arrange for this service. As a homeowner, now would be a good time to have a pen and paper handy so you can document these drafty spots and get ready to seal them up. Learn more about an energy audit here.

Finally, once your furnace is running at maximum efficiency and your home is properly insulated, you should consider adding a programmable thermostat to your system. With a programmable thermostat, you can regulate the temperature inside your home to provide comfort when you’re home and awake and drop the temperature when you’re away or sleeping. This system can also be used to maximize your efficiency during the summer months as well.

Here’s a great article on the benefits of a programmable thermostat and even some tips on how to install it!

By following these steps, you can ensure a comfortable winter in your home and a higher comfort level with your energy budget this year.

Photo courtesy of mksfly on Flickr