Money Matters

Six ways to winterize your home

November 26, 2013 | Alliant Credit Union

Jack Frost has a wicked way of intruding into people's houses to make them feel cold and to drive up their heating costs. The bad news: more than 90% of the 116 million homes in the United States are expected to have higher heating expenditures this winter than last winter, mainly because of projected price increases for residential natural gas, propane, and electricity, according to the Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The good news: you can reduce the "brr" factor and save up to 50% of your total heating costs if you properly winterize your home, according to home repair experts. Here are six winterizing tips to help you save money.

Block those leaks. The average American home has leaks equal to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to the Earthworks Group of Murrells Inlet, S.C. To pinpoint leaks, which generally aren't obvious or easy to see, consider walking through your home on a breezy date with a lit incense stick. If the smoke goes anywhere but up, you probably have a leak that lets the wind through. Then, address those areas. Put up storm windows or affix plastic sheeting over your windows. Install sweeps to close spaces under the doors. And if needed, cover electrical outlets with gaskets. Also, get out your caulk gun, go outside and seal leaks with weather-resistant exterior caulk.

Make sure the top of your house is in tip-top shape. "The single most effective way to save on heating is to have adequate attic insulation," says Danny Lipford, host of the TV show "Today's Homeowner." "Look for ceiling joists," he says. “If you see them, you need more insulation, at least 12 inches." Also, replace worn roof shingles and tiles.

Clean out the gutters, removing leaves and other muck. Then spray water through the downspouts to clear away any leftover debris. Make sure the downspouts carry water away from your home's foundation so water coming from your gutters won't cause damage - at least 10 feet away, according to the Well Home Program of Seattle.

Check the furnace. When you fire up your furnace for the first time this season, it's common for it to emit a strong, odd odor. If it persists for a long time, shut off the furnace and call a professional. Many experts suggest having your furnace cleaned and checked by an HVAC professional annually (often a quick job costing around $100). Check your furnace filters every month and change them when needed.

Get your equipment ready. Drain gas from lawnmowers. Fire up your snowblower BEFORE you need it to make sure that it will start. Not working well? Then give it a tune-up or have it serviced. Drain your garden hose and detach it from the outside faucet. Make sure the in-house water valve to the outside faucet is turned off. If you live where it snows, make sure to have snow shovels and environmentally friendly ice melt on hand.

Protect the pipes. Insulate any pipes that aren't insulated, especially those that flow through unheated spaces, such as crawlspaces or garages. Use pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation.

Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, MSN.com, CBSNews.com and About.com

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