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Batten Down Your Hatches

Winter is on the way

An energy audit will help determine where your home is losing heat to the outdoors.

We lay in bed, just before lights out, and watched the small battalion of gunmetal gray tanks make their way across the top of our curtains. Three windows, three stinkbugs each. After fall’s bombardment, we didn’t get too worked up over just nine of the little buggers. But we did wonder what entrance they were using. My husband suggested our double-hung windows were probably not shut tight, and the slender gap at the top and bottom of each gave the invaders — and the now frequent gusts of cold air — easy access to our warm house.

The stinkbugs did us a seasonal favor by reminding us that it is time to batten down the hatches. Ready or not, winter is just around the corner.

Read on for simple steps you can manage in a morning to stay snug as a bug in a rug — which is what those stinkbugs are up to.

 

From the Outside In

Drain and disconnect garden hoses from outdoor spigots. Water left in the hose and in the spigot will freeze and expand, causing cracked hoses and burst pipes.

Clean out gutters. Leaves and other debris block the flow and allow water to back up and over your house’s fascia board. Same story with roof valleys, where two different pitches meet. A debris dam there can block the flow of water and push it up under roof shingles, causing rot and ceiling leaks.

Keep unwanted visitors away. Check for openings — they don’t have to be big — where rodents and insects can enter your house. Eaves and foundations are favorite points of entry, especially around loose or broken basement windows.

Store porous pottery out of the cold. Terra cotta pots, planters and other garden décor will crack and break if left outdoors in freezing temperatures.

Empty birdbaths and drain seasonal ponds and fountains. Keep your backyard birds hydrated year-round by installing a birdbath heater or using an all-weather-rated birdbath.

One last session spent pulling weeds can help keep them at bay come spring. Then cut back perennials. Finish by adding a two-inch layer of compost or mulch to help protect plants from winter damage while nourishing the soil.

Stock up on sand, kitty litter or ice-melt pellets before the snow flies — and with it your feet out from under you. Dig out the snow shovel and if you have a snow blower, make sure it’s still running after last year’s workout.

While you’re at it, don’t forget your cars. It’s a good idea to stash a snow shovel and a bag or two of sand or kitty litter for self-rescue from a snowy bank. Salty road spray on a windshield can turn visibility to near zero, so make sure the wiper fluid reservoir is filled, and keep a jug of it in your car to refill as needed.

If you’re not mechanically inclined, take your car to a professional to have belts, hoses and fluid levels checked and replaced as necessary. Have the tires checked, too. Worn treads make for even less traction on icy roads. 

 

Keep the Heat In

Even without another winter of record snowfall, freezing temperatures are a reliable forecast. Here are simple DIY fixes to keep the heat inside your house. 

Keep cold air — and bugs — out. Make sure windows are all tightly shut. If you have window sash locks, check them so the weather seal is complete. 

Check storm windows and doors for any cracks or gaps. Inspect rubber gaskets for rips and rot. Install weather-stripping in small gaps. Repair as needed.

Check your furnace. At the very least, change filters. Better still, schedule routine maintenance.

If you have a fireplace, call in a professional chimney sweep before firing it up. The service includes checking your liner for cracks as well as removing the built-up creosote, reducing the chance of a chimney fire. Make sure the chimney flue is working properly.

Wrap water pipes with insulation. Wrapping — or slipping insulation jackets around — pipes can reduce their risk of freezing and keep the heat in, reducing expensive heat loss. Pipes that have a tendency to freeze can be protected by electric heater tape specifically for this application.

Use caulking or insulating foam to seal up drafty cracks and openings in your home. You can find drafts by shivering, or you can walk your inner perimeter with a lighted candle, incense stick or match and watch for the flame or smoke to move. Use caulk to fill small gaps. Spray foam expands to fill larger gaps.

Seal air leaks around electrical outlets. Gaskets are made for this purpose; buy them at home centers in two sorts. One alternative is a foam gasket you place under the cover plate; another is a little plastic cover with prongs to stick into the outlet.

In the attic, close up gaps around recessed lighting and openings made for pipes and wires. Be sure to use fire-block foam if you’re sealing the cracks around chimneys or areas prone to heat, like water heaters. 

Install a programmable thermostat. You don’t need to be an electrician for this easy, energy-saving upgrade. 

 

Call in the Pros

For maximum energy conservation, consider a home-energy audit. These audits are done by certified professionals who visit your home and evaluate where and how energy is being lost, what systems are operating inefficiently and what cost-effective improvements can be done to make your home more energy-efficient.

Installing a programmable thermostat will cut your heating costs.

 

The quickest and least expensive is a simple but effective walk-through survey. It takes about an hour. The auditor checks windows, doors, insulation and ducts for leaks; evaluates your heating, cooling and ventilation systems; checks home appliances and lighting; listens to your comfort complaints; and checks for visible moisture, health and safety issues. 

After the walk-through, you get a report of the findings and recommendations for improving your home’s energy efficiency. The report should include information on your local utility-based programs to cut heat loss.

More complex audits are done with diagnostic equipment and computerized data analysis of your home’s energy efficiency. These audits are more expensive and take three to four hours, depending on the size of your home.

For more information on home energy audits, contact your local utility provider or visit:

www.energy.state.md.us/Residential

www.resnet.us/directory/raters

www.LivingEfficently.org