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  Tuesday, September 30, 2014  
   
 

 
Winterizing Your Home
Tips for Winter

Oil and Fossil Fuel Furnaces

If you live in a home that is heated by an oil furnace, it is extremely important to have your furnace and related systems properly maintained and serviced each year before the winter heating season begins. This is certainly for energy efficiency, but also for safety reasons. Any heating system that utilizes fossil or petroleum based fuels can also lead to excessive levels of carbon monoxide emissions within your home. These are colorless and odorless and can be fatal if excessive levels are allowed to build up within your home. Having your oil or fuel burning furnace routinely serviced can prevent this from occurring and can also prevent other sorts of damage or loss to your home. It is very important to have your furnace serviced yearly, in order to ensure that they are running properly, efficiently and safely. Often house fires occur due to faulty oil burning furnaces or from fireplace chimneys that have not been properly cleaned.

If you heat your home with this type of furnace, you should also have carbon monoxide detectors within your home that can protect you and your family against excessive levels of carbon monoxide by warning you should levels become dangerous.

Natural Gas and Propane Heating Appliances

Natural gas and propane furnaces can be very efficient, but in order to remain so, they need to be cleaned and serviced either during or before the winter heating season begins. This will result in a smooth, efficient and safe source of heat.

Heat Pumps

In our area, heat pumps are a popular and energy efficient choice for many homeowners. Even though they do not burn gas or fossil fuels they still need to be serviced and properly maintained by having the filters changed and coils cleaned in the main indoor unit before the heating season begins. Refrigerant levels also need to be checked twice a year to ensure that they are at proper levels for optimal performance.

With proper maintenance your HVAC and other mechanical systems will give you years of safe and energy efficient use. With so much at stake it makes sense to follow through with scheduling your maintenance check up today. A few dollars spent will give you not only peace of mind, but a safe, energy efficient and warm home for the winter. Make sure whoever you contact to service your heating systems has a long history of reputable service in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck and that their technicians are properly certified.

If you have not done so already, now is the time to take the following steps to winterize your home, which in some cases can lead to significant energy savings. Make sure that the amount of money you spend is something you can afford and something that you can begin realizing a return on this year.

  • 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.
  • Installing insulated curtains, roman shades or draperies is another way to help insulate your home and prevent heat loss. More heat loss is lost through our windows than almost anywhere else.
  • Caulking placed around gaps in windows, siding or around doors can go a long way toward preventing drafts.
  • Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. A lit candle can help you to pinpoint the exact source of a draft that can cost you valuable energy dollars.
  • Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the walls, ceiling, or floor has the potential to cause heat loss and wasted 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. Also, have your fireplace chimney cleaned and inspected every year if you are planning to use it for heating purposes.
  • Examine your home heating ducts for leaks. Since you don’t see them everyday, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. You can inspect this yourself or have them inspected by a professional.
  • Have damaged ducts repaired or replaced. It is best to do this before the cold weather hits as companies in your area may not be able to get to your job on short notice. Make sure you use a qualified HVAC contractor to do this work.
  • Duct tape can work for a short time to seal up leaky ducts, but after a while, it dries up and becomes useless.
  • Do insulate your attic and install insulation in your older home. 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 or home center about the recommended R-values for your location. They will also have good weather-strip. 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 as well as duct, plumbing, or electrical chases. 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.
  • Replace your heater’s air filter monthly! If you do this, your system will not have to work as hard.
  • Clean dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.
  • If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it. A pre-1977 gas furnace is only about 50 – 60% efficient. Modern gas furnaces, on the other hand, have achieved efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent. Replacing an old heating system can cut your natural gas use nearly in half!
  • Install or use your set-back thermostat that “remembers” to lower your thermostat during the day, when you are not home. If you don’t have a set back thermostat you should get one. It will remember to automatically turn down the heat when you’re away at work or when you’re sleeping. When you need to you can then increase the temperature to your own comfort level. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long. Using a set-back thermostat can cut heating costs from 20% to 75%.
  • Reversing the switch on your ceiling fan is especially important in areas where there is a high or vaulted ceiling. This will keep all of your heat from going straight up to the high points, making it much more expensive to heat your home.
  • Turn off everything that is not in use, such as lights, TVs, VCRs, CD and DVD players and computers.
  • An energy efficient heat pump can lower your heating bill by 30 – 40% if you are replacing an older one.
  • Use kitchen, bathroom and other ventilation fans sparingly. In an hour they can discharge a household of warmed air.
  • Finally, replace loose shingles and ensure that flashing around chimneys and vent pipes is water tight. This won’t do much for your energy bill, but it will help to prevent water damage and other freezing / thawing types of damage.

If you have not already, there is still time to winterize your home in order to maximize your energy dollars and also to ensure that your home is a safe and warm place during the holidays and beyond. Freezing and thawing, mild to extreme cold is what generally characterizes our winters. This along with skyrocketing energy costs concern all of us.

As our schedules become busier and busier, with additional stresses on our household budget, “winterizing” is often one of the last things on our list. We winterize our vehicles every year, but often our home, our single largest investment, is overlooked. With a little bit of time and a few dollars spent you can protect your investment and save on your overall heating budget.