Here's a few simple tasks and reminders to get your house's (or apartment's) interior in top shape and keep those energy bills low for the upcoming winter season.
If you have a Fireplace:
Stock up now on clean, dry firewood (did you know that firewood can be delivered and stacked for you? Check out your local fireplace store for recommendations.) Store the firewood away from your house to keep mice and other vermin at a distance.
If possible, install glass doors on the fireplace to keep to keep warm air from being sucked up into the chimney
Close the damper when the fireplace isn't being used. When you are using it, turn down the thermostat and open a window near the fireplace to prevent the warm air from being pulled from other parts of the house.
If you use your fireplace a lot, a fireplace insert improves efficiency by blowing heat into the room and limiting the heat loss up the chimney.
Prevent any flooding by caulking any gaps in your sidewalks (especially those closest to the house).
Keeping the Heat In (and the Cold Out):
On sunny days, open the curtains, blinds or drapes to let the sun's heat in. Then close them at night to trap the warmth inside.
Reducing air leaks, properly insulating walls, crawl spaces and floors can cut your energy bills by up to 10 percent. Seal leaky ducts with metal-backed tape or aerosol sealant. If possible (and affordable), update your insulation (proper overall insulation can reduce average home heating and cooling costs by 20 percent); not only will this save money, it'll improve home comfort and lower the risk of ice dams.
Close or install storm windows; they'll reduce drafts, cut frost formation and window heat loss by 25-50 percent. If you're on a budget, just cover the regular windows with plastic (it'll work just as well).
Set the thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when you're home; lower it at bedtime or if you're going to be away from home for a while (more than a few hours). If affordable, get a programmable thermostat for automatic switches.
If possible, schedule a home-energy audit through your energy company (I'd check first to see if it's free. If not, is it affordable for you? The cost ranges from $30 to $100). Upon a home inspection, you'll be advised on ways to save on energy, including windows, insulation, heating and cooling systems.
Drain the sediment (or the sludge) from the water heater (this should be done once or twice a year).
Get acquainted with your house's ductwork. Most homes have dampers, which allow you to change the volume of heat going upstairs, downstairs and and all rooms in-between.
Before the first cold spell, clean the furnace (if it's not too dirty, try vacuuming the blades yourself to save money. If you decide to have a professional contractor-or “furnace guy"-clean it, expect to pay from $50 to $100-or possibly more-for a tune-up).
Change the furnace filters according to the manufacturers' instructions. Most homes are built with a 1-inch filter that should be change every month.
Maintaining the Heat:
If you have a ceiling fan, run it at low speed in reverse direction (clockwise); the blades will drive warm air down into the room.
Do you have an attached garage? You'll want to clear it of “mice magnets” (Don't stash any unsealed birdseed or woodpiles here!).
Sources: “Winter Survival Guide”-McClatchy Newspapers-The (Sunday) Vindicator, Oct. 14, 2012 and “Follow this fall, winter seasonal maintenance guide” by Karin Beuerlein, “Valley Homes” magazine-The (Sunday) Vindicator, Sept. 22, 2013