With a tough economy looming like the Grinch over this year’s holiday season, many people are looking for ways to ensure their homes are ready for the cold winter months in an effort to save money through energy efficiency. Your Better Business Bureau is offering a checklist for homeowners to safely prepare their homes for winter and perhaps save a few dollars in the process.
According to the Energy Information Administration, home heating costs this winter are expected to rise by 23 percent for homeowners who rely on heating oil, 18 percent for homes relying on natural gas and 10-11 percent for homes heated by propane or electricity. Luckily, homeowners can fend off some of the rising energy costs by winterizing their home before the harshest weather takes hold.
“As if people needed some more bad news about high prices, high heating costs are the next hurdle for cash-strapped consumers, and yet another reason for homeowners to take steps to winterize their homes before the cold sets in,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “Winterizing a home makes good economic sense because a small up-front investment can pay dividends for months by increasing the energy efficiency of a house and reducing overall heating costs.”
Following is a BBB home winterizing checklist for consumers to consult when preparing for the cold months ahead:
• Furnace. Furnaces older than 15 years might be due for a replacement. For younger furnaces, BBB recommends making sure the furnace filter is clean, the thermostat is working properly and the pilot light is functioning. Homeowners can also hire an inspector to do the job and make sure the furnace is in safe working order.
• Heating ducts. Ducts should be cleaned once every two years. Homeowners should also consider adding insulation to any exposed ductwork. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it travels through unheated spaces.
• Chimney. Before lighting up, homeowners planning on using their fireplace come winter should have the chimney inspected for animals, debris and leaves that may have fallen in. BBB also recommends installing a screen over the chimney opening.
• Gutters and ridge vents. Gutters should be cleaned to prevent any clogs that would cause rainwater to back up and freeze, making the gutters expand and crack. The ridge vents need to be cleaned as well in order to allow the house to "breath" correctly. Otherwise, air will stagnate and create an unhealthy environment.
• Smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors. BBB recommends testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and installing fresh batteries. Homeowners should consider replacing smoke alarms older than 10 years.
• Caulking and Weather Stripping. The average American home has air leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to the EarthWorks Group. To prevent leaks, homeowners should inspect the caulking around windows and doors and check for cracking and peeling. In addition, BBB recommends ensuring that doors and windows shut tightly and no cold air is coming in due to worn down weather stripping.
• Seasonal equipment. Homeowners won’t need their spring and summer equipment for a few months, so BBB recommends draining the water from garden hoses and air conditioner pipes and the gasoline from the lawnmower and other garden tools. It’s also time to pull out the snow shovels and plows and ensure they are in good repair.
• Emergency kit. When a winter storm strikes, an emergency kit should have all essential materials in one handy place. An emergency kit should include flashlights, candles and matches, a first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food and a battery-powered radio. BBB recommends creating the same emergency kit for the car as well, including a couple blankets.
For more advice you can trust on home maintenance and saving money this winter visit BBB online at www.bbb.org.