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Fall checklist for a safer, warmer home

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Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2008 10:00 pm

High energy prices are taking their toll on just about everyone this year, so it's important to do whatever you can to create and maintain an energy-efficient home. Fall is the ideal time for weatherization projects, so this year's fall checklist is centered around what you can do to create a warmer home that has less impact on your wallet.

___Check all insulation levels: Improving insulation levels can be a highly effective way of increasing your home's comfort and energy efficiency, so make it a point this fall to check the amount and condition of all visible insulation. This includes the attic, underfloor, kneewalls, skylight shafts and ductwork. A call to your local utility company will tell you what levels are considered optimum for your area, and if repairs are needed and you don't want to undertake them yourself, they can also recommend qualified insulation and weatherization contractors.

___Check and seal heating ducts: Crawling around in the attic or crawlspace isn't anyone's idea of a fun afternoon, but it's the only way to examine and repair your heating ducts. Check for gaps between ducts and fittings, and seal them with a quality metallic tape - not regular duct tape, which doesn't last. Also, check to be sure that all of the ducts are up off the ground and adequately supported.

___Check weatherstripping: Gaps around doors and windows - no matter how small or seemingly insignificant - allow cold outside air to enter your home. The result is uncomfortable drafts and wasted energy. Closely examine each exterior door and window to see that the weatherstripping is doing its job. There should be no visible gaps, the weatherstripping should be clean and undamaged, and windows and doors should operate smoothly and close completely. If any repairs are necessary, you can find everything you need at your local hardware store or home center, or contact a qualified weatherization contractor or handyman.

___Seal exterior penetrations: Weatherstripping is not the only culprit when it comes to air leaks. Spend a day working your way around the outside of the house with a caulking gun and a couple of tubes of high-quality, flexible caulking, and seal any gaps around window and door trim, plumbing and electrical penetrations, flashings and other openings.

___Add outlet gaskets: Shut the power, remove switch and outlet plates, and add precut foam outlet gaskets, which are available from home centers, hardware stores and other retailers. Do the interior walls as well as the exterior walls, and don't forget exterior outlets as well. It's a small thing, but small things definitely add up.

___Change furnace filters: Fall is always the perfect time to put in new furnace filters. It's another one of those simple and inexpensive tasks that can add to your home's efficiency and your family's comfort.

___Upgrade your thermostat: An older thermostat that's a couple of degrees off can result in a lot of wasted energy, and so can forgetting to set the thermostat down at night. You can take care of both of those problems with an upgrade to a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats are digital and typically very accurate, and they allow for easy, set-and-forget programming of temperatures for different times of the day, including energy-saving nighttime and workday setbacks.

___Clean and service fireplaces and woodstoves: Make sure that your gas, wood, and pellet-burning fireplaces and stoves are clean and operating correctly. Check door gaskets, blower operation, flues and flue caps, thermostats and all other aspects of these important appliances. If you're not sure what to look for or how to do any cleaning or repairs, check with a qualified, licensed fireplace shop or chimney sweep.

___Install a carbon monoxide detector: If you have any gas appliances in your home, there is always the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning should any of them ever malfunction. This is a very real danger, especially as we close our homes up for the winter, so make it a point this fall to install a carbon monoxide detector. These lifesavers are inexpensive, easy to install, and available from most home centers and hardware stores.

___Check smoke detectors: Same warning every fall - check to see that your smoke detectors are operating correctly, and install fresh batteries. If you have an older home with a limited number of detectors, install additional ones outside each bedroom, and make sure that you have at least one on each floor of the house.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.


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