Five ideas to keep cozy in your home during cold months

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 4, 2013 

Old Man Winter is making his annual appearance. We love him for the glorious snowscapes and the invigorating winter sports he brings us, but hate him for the chapped lips and high fuel bills he also brings. Let’s all stay friends with this inevitable seasonal visitor by following a few simple steps to make this guest more welcome and less of a nuisance:

1What’s in the attic?

65 percent of your home’s heat is lost through the roof. A good insulation on the floor of your attic can reduce heat loss by at least 30 percent, if not more. Strips of insulation are available at any hardware store; they are easy to cut and handle. Just remember that the thicker they are, the more effective insulation they give. Although modern insulation is asbestos-free and manufactured to very safe specifications, it is always wise to wear gloves, goggles, and a face mask when installing insulation. Also remember that wet insulation is useless and so is compacted or crushed insulation. If your roof has had a leak and gotten your insulation wet, you’ll want to replace it before more snow falls.

2Avoid window pains.

Your home may be blessed with new, double-sheeted windows, or you may still be struggling with the old single-pane fossils, maybe even having to put up storm windows. Either way, you’ll want to inspect your windows carefully for winter, and take the appropriate steps. Replace any cracked windows immediately. They not only let your heat out, but they can be dangerous when a sudden temperature inversion occurs, actually shattering to pieces as if a rock had been thrown through them. Avoid covering all of your windows with plastic sheeting —“ you’ll get cabin fever much quicker if all you can see out your windows is a dull blur, and if moisture cannot escape from your home during the cold months, it will bead up on the inside of your walls, inviting various fungi and mold to flourish.

3Clean the gutters.

Nobody wants to do this job, we know. But if you can’t face it yourself or get a junior family member to do it, hire someone. It’s critical that your gutters stay free and uncluttered during icy weather. Otherwise the build-up of debris and ice in them could form dams that back up water from your roof; and that water will eventually seep into your outside walls, causing potentially massive structural damage to your home. This is commonly known as ice-damming. There are several companies that now provide screened gutters that automatically keep trash out; you might want to consider having them install new gutters for you if you’re in a part of the country where it is still mild weather. One tip: do not mix metals, especially aluminum and copper. A chemical reaction between the two will “burn” holes into the metals.

4Furnace inspection.

You don’t want to ignore this one. The grisly statistics speak for themselves; in the United States, on average, there are more than twenty deaths by asphyxiation each month from November through March, due to faulty furnaces that spew out carbon monoxide along with heat. You can change a furnace filter yourself, but unless you’re licensed and bonded, don’t try to repair your furnace. Get an expert in to check it thoroughly and professionally. Check your homeowner’s insurance to see if that expense is covered. It is best to put in place a service contract with a furnace company so that your furnace gets cleaned and inspected by an expert on a regular basis.

5Automated thermostat.

If you spend the majority of your time in just one room of your house, it doesn’t make financial sense to pay for heating all of it to a comfortable temperature. Install an automatic thermostat that keeps the temperature at around 72 degrees during the day and 67 degrees at night, and then have a small, portable room heater you can keep in the living room or family room to keep it a toasty 78 degrees. That said, be sure that your electrical system is up to the task since heaters draw a lot of power. If you are not sure, ask an electrician. Make sure you have a heater that has an automatic timer on it, so it will shut off after thirty minutes — that way you never have to worry about forgetting and leaving the heater on while you’re out making snow angels with the kids!

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