How to Prepare Your House to Stay Warm While Saving Money and Energy This Winter

Labor Day has come and gone, the leaves are turning color, and people’s attention has turned to the fall classics--the World Series and football. Now is also the time to turn your attention to getting your home prepared to keep you warm this winter, says Temple University mechanical engineering professor Dr. Steven M. Ridenour.

An expert in heating, ventilating and air conditioning, Ridenour suggests having the furnace cleaned and checked; making sure windows close tightly; inspecting and replacing old weatherstripping around all windows and doors; and, since warm air rises, checking your home’s upper floors for openings around attic doors and windows, ventilation fans, and ceiling light fixtures.

“Having your furnace serviced is one of the first things you want to have done,” he says. “It’s worth the expense and will have your heating system running at maximum efficiency.”

Ridenour also suggests changing filters on warm air heating systems, as well as checking the flue or chimney exhaust for clogs.

As for a heating system with radiators, he says to make sure that they are open to the air and kept clean. “They also work much better if you don’t put anything on top of them,” says Ridenour. “This allows the heat to get out to a wider area.”

The second most important step in preparing your home to be warm this winter is stopping infiltration of outside air.

“Many people remove storm windows during the summer and replace them with screens,” he says. “Now’s the time to put the storm windows back in and to make sure they are closed tightly and fastened securely.”

Ridenour says to carefully inspect the weatherstripping around the windows for a tight fit to keep cold air from infiltrating the house. If it’s worn, he suggests considering purchasing a weatherstripping kit from the hardware store.

“An ordinary roll of duct tape will also work well in helping to seal around the windows and is very economical,” he says.

For people who leave their air conditioners in the window over the winter, Ridenour says to make sure the fresh air vent is closed. “Put a cover on the outside of the air conditioner and make sure it’s well sealed.”

In addition to the windows, Ridenour says to check the weatherstripping around doors, especially at the bottom of storm doors. “Even if you’ve replaced it last year, check it again. It can wear out very easily through repeatedly opening and closing the door.”

If the weatherstripping at the bottom of the door is worn, but not enough to warrant replacing, Ridenour says to just do what grandmother did, place a rug or towel along the bottom of the door.

Additional areas where cold might infiltrate the house, according to Ridenour, is around kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, and clothes dryers. These should be inspected to make sure the dampers work and create a tight seal when not in use.

Since warm air rises, Ridenour suggests making sure there are no openings around attic doors and stairs, upper level vent fans, and light fixtures. “Keeping the doors closed to upper level rooms that are not in use will also help keep more warm air in the living spaces that are more in use,” he says.

As the fuel prices continue to rise this winter, Ridenour suggests using alternative heat sources and rolling back thermostats at night to save on heating bills.

“People with south-facing, double-paned windows can use them to generate solar heat,” says Ridenour. “You want to keep them clean and open the shades to the sun during the day, while keeping them closed at night.”

Each square-foot of south-facing window pane used in this manner will save about one gallon of home heating oil over the course of the winter, he says.

Even more effective at helping save on the heating bill is rolling back the thermostat at night. “A five-degree setback each night for at least six hours will save about five percent on the heating bill over the winter season,” Ridenour estimates.

Ridenour urges caution to people who would use kersoene heaters or fireplaces for heat.

“Kersosene heaters are very efficient because all the heat goes directly into the surrounding space,” he says. “But so does carbon dioxide from the heater. They need to be used with ventilation, which means opening up things you’ve been trying to keep sealed, like windows.”

The same holds true for fireplaces, which Ridenour says also need ventilation. “You need to crack open a window near the fireplace because they draw air from the surrounding space, and this just encourages the infiltration of the cold air you’ve been trying to keep out.”

Finally, Ridenour suggests only using an electric heater for a small space, and as needed. “While it’s true that they give more efficient heat, electricity costs more than oil or gas.”

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