Make Your Home Warmer — And Safer — This Winter
How to protect both your house and wallet when the temperature plunges
From December through March, your house works overtime to keep the inside warm and cozy while the outside stands up to winter’s worst. Frigid temperatures bring hefty heating bills and the highest risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. But you can protect your home, save money and help ensure your family’s safety by following these tips.
Insulate to make sure heat doesn’t escape
The most important step in winterizing your home is insulating it. The U.S. Department of Energy has a handy diagram that shows where you should add insulation. The average property owner can save 5 to 30 percent on heating costs by properly insulating their home and fixing or replacing drafty windows and doors.
Watch for fire hazards
The majority of deaths related to carbon monoxide and house fires occur in the winter. The most common causes of house fires between December and March are space heaters, which should be kept away from combustible material and used according to manufacturers’ directions. Also, the California State Firefighters’ Association reports that winter house fires are commonly caused by candles, Christmas trees and cooking.
Tune up that heating system
Your heating system uses most of the energy in your home. If you have an older system, replacing it with a more energy efficient one can decrease heating bills by as much as $200 per month, according to energystar.gov.
A poorly maintained system poses dangers that range from carbon monoxide poisoning to fire. The U.S. Fire Administration reports there are about 54,000 heating-related residential fires each year. More than one in three fires occur in January and February and usually break out in heating systems, chimneys, fuels and fuel boxes.
A new heating system can be expensive — even if you find rebates and tax credits. At minimum, your system should be tuned up each year by a professional. This saves you money by having your system operate efficiently. And it can prevent problems before they occur.
Buy a generator
A portable or standby generator can keep you in your house when the power goes out for long periods of time.
A portable generator is the less expensive option and can power key equipment in your home. Calculate how much electric power you need to run the essentials — heating system, sump pump, refrigerator/freezer, water system (if you have a well and filtration) and lights. An electrician can install an alternate circuit panel that connects to your generator and will supply these key areas. Most portable generators won’t be able to run electric stoves and clothes dryers.
Portable generators can be dangerous if not operated correctly. From 1999 to 2013, 800 out of 913 carbon monoxide-related deaths in the U.S. were a result of portable generator usage. When using a generator:
- Never operate one inside your home or in an enclosed area, like a shed.
- It should be at least 20 feet away from your home.
- It should be covered with an open tent-like structure so it’s not exposed to rain, which can cause electrocution hazards.
The more expensive alternative is a professionally installed standby generator, which is connected directly into your home’s electrical system. It can kick in automatically during a power failure and is fueled using natural gas or propane tanks. These generators supply more power than a standard portable generator.
Other tips for winter prep
- Remove dead trees. Rotting trees and limbs pose a danger to your home and cars. Heavy snow and ice, along with fierce winds, can easily topple these trees and damage your property.
- Caulk drafty windows and buy weather strips for doors that need replacing if buying new windows and doors isn’t in your budget this year. Your home supply store offers many products, including a winter sealable caulking that can temporarily seal drafty gaps and can easily be removed in the spring.
- Shut off the valve to exterior water spigots and then drain them. For those who live in areas with extended freezing temperatures, your water irrigation system should be turned off, too.
- Get your chimney cleaned. Chimney fires are common in the winter. Between 2009 and 2011, there was an average of 24,300 in the U.S. each year. A professional chimney cleaner will reduce chimney fire hazards.
- Clean your gutters. Remove leaves and debris from your gutters to lessen the chance of ice buildup, which can lead to ice dams that damage your roof. Ice dams also are caused by poor attic insulation. Proper insulation reduces the chance that you’ll need an expensive repair job.
- Replace your furnace filter. If your furnace uses a filter, check it every month and replace it regularly. It’ll keep the air cleaner and help your furnace run more efficiently.
- Install a programmable thermostat. It’s a wise investment. Turn your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours and you can save 5 to 15 percent annually on your heating cost according to energy.gov.