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Weatherproof Your Home For Winter

It's time to prepare your home against winter's harsh weather. A few simple, precautionary steps can save money and add to the value of your home.

Keep in mind the benefits of making the improvements and the risks involved in leaving some jobs unfinished.

1) Heating systems: Heating systems vary, but in general, industry standards advise a professional check-up every year for oil-powered units and every three years for those powered by gas. However, do-it-yourself maintenance also is advisable. With the furnace off, you should replace air filters, and vacuum dust from the blower, fan blades grills and air intakes. Replace any cracked or frayed belts.

If your furnace supplies heat using hot water in pipes or radiators, you may need to lubricate the motor that pushes water through the system. Remember: the efficiency of hot-water systems can be impaired if air gets caught within the systems, because air takes the place of hot water. Make sure the valve that lets air escape is working properly.

2) Chimney flues: Checking your chimney is another important weatherproofing task. If you are uncertain about the condition of a furnace or chimney flue, it's best to hire a chimney sweep to clear out creosote, the flammable oily residue that accumulates when wood is burned. If left uncleaned, creosote could be re-ignited, causing a chimney fire. If you decide to clean out the furnace flue yourself, take apart exposed pipe sections and brush them outdoors. To clean a chimney flue, pull a sand-filled canvas bag back and forth through the opening, working from the roof. Make certain the flue is closed to keep soot from filtering inside the house.

3) Smoke detectors: Although battery-powered smoke detectors should be tested year round, it is crucial to test them in the winter, because sources of fire, such as fireplaces, wood stoves and portable heaters are used. Testing battery-powered units is simple -- make sure the batteries work. A unit connected to the electrical system should also be tested, but probably does not need any maintenance except, perhaps, a light dusting.

4) Air or water leaks: Look for air cracks around windows, doors, pipes, ducts and other openings. It is important to seal these leaks with flexible caulk. Seams where siding meets windows and doors should also be caulked. On brick siding, fill in eroded joints with mortar, to keep out air, water and snow.

5) Insulation: Check the attic to see if insulation needs to be added or replaced. This is the most significant area of heat loss in many homes, so it is also important to see that it has proper ventilation. Inadequate ventilation could lead to premature deterioration of the insulation materials. It may be necessary to check insulation in exterior walls, crawl spaces and along foundation walls, as well.

6) Gutter cleaning: Clean the leaves from all gutters. Then, make sure the drainage system works by running water through them.

Preparing your home for winter is a smart way to cut energy costs and make sure your home is safe. It's a job that is well worth the time and effort.