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  • Winter Is Coming: Is Your Home Fortified?

    Colorado Snow Storm - prepare your home for winter Colorado receives a blanket of white - via AccuWeather

    Winter weather is here. A storm dumped feet of snow in Colorado and is bringing snow and wild weather to the Midwest.

    It’s not too late to prepare a home for winter. A few steps will cut energy bills and help keep homes safe.

    First, prepare the inside.

    It doesn’t take a natural disaster or power outage to make a home’s temperature intolerable. A heater dying will do the same thing.

    My family found that out in February when, while we were in the middle of a major kitchen remodel, our furnace broke. It was on a weekend (of course), so most of the company’s technicians were off duty and the one who arrived was inexperienced and couldn’t diagnose the problem. We had to huddle in blankets and borrow space heaters from neighbors and friends as the cold air poured through holes in the floor.

    So tune the furnace, clean ducts, and consider an annual service contract. Change filters monthly.

    Insulation - prepare your home for winter via Energy.gov

    The better a home can retain heat, the safer and more comfortable its occupants will be and the longer its fuel supply will last, according to ready.gov. Insulating walls and attics and caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows will make the home more energy-efficient.

    “If you added up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home's envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year,” according to the U.S. government’s Energy Star program.

    Kiplinger.com, an investment advice site, estimated sealing a home can cost between $1,700 and $7,000 for a 2,500-square-foot home. However, many utility companies have programs that might offset the cost of adding insulation. And heating and cooling bills drop by between 15 and 35 percent in the first year alone, according to Kiplinger.

    Homeowners can do some of the work themselves. Big box stores sell equipment to weather-strip and caulk doors and windows. Homeowners can also add or replace door sweeps and adjust locks on window sashes to seal gaps in windows.

    Kiplinger recommends calling a professional to seal attics and walls and blow in insulation. Contractors should be certified by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Efficiency First, the Building Performance Institute, Energy Star or the Residential Energy Services Network.

    Check insulation periodically. When my family moved into our home, our attic only had about six inches of insulation. We hired a professional who blew in another foot. That lasted less than two years. Our kitchen remodelers, breaking through into the attic, found only about six inches of insulation … again. We still don’t know what happened.

    Replacing old windows can cost quite a bit: $300 to $1,000 apiece for Energy Star-qualified windows, and up to double that if the frame needs replacing too, according to Kiplinger.

    However, the site says replacing 10 windows can save about $135 per year in heating and cooling bills. Again, some utilities have rebate programs for certain Energy Star-qualified replacement windows.

    If window replacement is out of the budget, ready.gov recommends at least covering windows with plastic.

    Second, prepare the outside of the home and the yard.

    If possible, call in an arborist to look for rotting, damaged or dangling tree limbs. That’s especially important if a tree is growing near power lines. Trees are involved in about 30 percent of power outages, according to consumerenergy.com.

    Man Clearing Leaves From Guttering Of House - prepare your home for winter Prepare your home for winter to avoid damage, as well as save money on energy costs.

    At a minimum, clean rain gutters yearly, preferably in the late fall. This will help prevent ice building up in blocked gutters, according to doityourself.com. As snow melts, blocked gutters can cause it to flow into places it’s not supposed to, like basements.

    “Improper gutter maintenance will lead to clogged or damaged gutters and can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your home's foundation, exterior trim, or basement,” the site said.

    Third, consider alternative energy sources. Like a generator.

    “Raise your hand if you spent a week in a dark, cold house after Superstorm Sandy tore through the Northeast,” wrote a columnist for a USA Today about preparing for winter. “If a big storm is forecast or upon us, no one will have a generator with your name on it.”

    Make sure any generators vent to the outside, to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

    A fireplace or wood stove is useful for emergency heating, but make sure the flue gets inspected each year, suggested the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Also, install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector nearby.

    Not only do these winter preparations help keep a home safer and warmer, they help save money. Americans spend about $2,000 per year on energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Almost half of it is heating and cooling.

    Taking some of these steps will protect family members and save money.


    What steps have you taken to fortify your home against the oncoming winter?


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Prepare your home for winter

  • How to Winterize your Home

    Winterize your house before the storms hit

    The minute winter is over and the temperature creeps up above 40 degrees, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. Spring cleaning? Bring it on. Paint touch-ups? Love it. Garden prep? Couldn’t start soon enough. But somehow I’m never as enthusiastic about my preparations for winter. Maybe it’s because I’m too wrapped up in Jingle Bells to think about the important, practical things (like my house making it through the stormy season). So this year, I’m mending my ways. Amid all my plans for caroling and drinking eggnog, I hereby commit to winterize my home. You all heard me, right? Somebody’s got to hold me to it…

    If you’re in a similar situation, there are plenty of places to look for good tips and checklists. I’ve listed some of the best at the end of the post, but most of the advice shakes down into these three basic categories:

    1. Energy efficiency

    In most parts of the country, winter is the season of skyrocketing utility bills, as we pay to heat our rooms, our water, and our toes. Reduce costs by checking the basics first: open heat vents, make sure your insulation is up to snuff, and check doors and windows for heat leaks—a little caulking or a weather strip is far cheaper than the fuel it takes to raise your home’s temperature those few, critical degrees! Another clever trick I found is to reverse the direction of your ceiling fans, if you have them, pushing the heated air downward and keeping the room warmer.

    2. Seasonal use items

    Winter means putting certain things away and pulling out others that haven’t seen the light of day in nine months. Make sure the former are stored properly and the latter are in good repair for winter use. For example, drain lawnmowers and weed-eaters of gasoline to keep the engines from gumming up in the cold. Remove window-unit air conditioners, or winterize central AC units by draining water pipes and covering the unit with plastic.

    Before the weather turns really nasty, have the chimney cleaned and/or the furnace serviced. Stock up on your supply of firewood or pellets, if you use a traditional fireplace or wood stove. And make sure snow shovels, ice scrapers, and snow blowers are all functional and accessible.

    3. Storm and cold prep

    Winter weather can be pretty brutal on your home and property. You can’t anticipate everything, but you can prepare. Here are some common problems and troubleshooting tips.

    Heavy rain or snow – Clean gutters and unclog downspouts. Gutters weighty with debris and water can pull away from the siding or (worse) leak into the house. Similarly, replace worn shingles on the roof before you have to fix a leak.

    Ice – Drain sprinklers and hoses, insulate outdoor faucets, and turn off the outdoor water supply to prevent frozen or cracked exterior pipes. Keep sand, salt, or ice melt on hand to keep porch steps and walkways safe in freezing temperatures.

    Wind – Check trees close to your house for rot or overhanging branches that could come off in a windstorm (or heavy snow). Cover and store patio furniture and stash pots and planters in the shed or garage.

    Most of all, don’t forget your emergency kits! Double check your supply of candles and blankets, in case of power outages, or invest in a Yeti Solar Generator to keep the basics powered in case of a blackout. Make sure you have the needed supplies to help you weather any storm.

    Don't forget to Winterize your Car too! Check out these links for handy checklists, and stay safe and warm this winter!


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