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A list of ways to prepare the home for winter's arrival


Frost is starting to show up in what weather forecasters call "the outlying suburbs" and it's starting to become a temptation to break our vow about not turning on the heat before Thanksgiving.

As in years past, we may succumb early. Meanwhile, there are a lot of ways to conserve heat built up during the day and keep colder night air out. If you begin fine-tuning your winter-warming system now, you'll be ready for that first cold snap -- or truly thankful at Thanksgiving.

Here's a list of tactics that will abet winter warmth:

*If it sounds elementary, it is: Close or install storm windows.

*Remember that as you close up the house, you will be decreasing ventilation and possibly increasing humidity. Make sure ventilating systems, such as exterior-venting range hoods and exhaust fans, are in good working order, and use them regularly.

While the house is closed up, be extra careful using products containing volatile organic compounds -- solvents, paints, paint thinner, some cleaners -- that can pollute indoor air. Such products are best used and stored outdoors.

*Remove air-conditioning units. Or wrap the outside with plastic, remove the front cover, pack the inside with fiberglass insulation and replace the cover. Or, if they can be removed, take units out and store them in the basement.

*Check doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Line door jambs with a good, flexible, bead-type weatherstripping that compresses when the door is closed. Replace worn thresholds to meet door-bottom weatherstripping. (The old-fashioned technique of using a rolled-up towel or sand- or bean-bag doorstop works well, too, and doesn't cost much.)

*Old double-hung wood windows can be made more energy-efficient if they're fixed in place and caulked. If you don't have storm windows, use shrink-fit, one-season plastic weather-seal film. Remember that the most effective system is two weather-tight surfaces with dead air space in between. The shrink film won't work well if you don't seal the windows.

*If you have an exterior door that isn't used, as often happens in the middle of a rehab, caulk and seal it as if it were a window.

*Change filters and tune up your heating equipment so it's clean and running efficiently. If you are replacing a furnace or boiler, upgrade to a more efficient model -- but check out maintenance. The very highly efficient equipment requires far more care and maintenance.

*One of the most effective ways to conserve energy is to install a clock thermostat that automatically sets back the temperature when no one is home or everyone is asleep.

*Remember that it's far cheaper to wear a sweater and keep the temperature a little lower. For every degree you turn the heat back and leave it, you save 3 percent in energy costs.

*It may be less expensive to heat the room or rooms you use most with a good, safe, efficient electric heater than to keep the whole house warm.

*If you have a wood stove or fireplace, have it cleaned and inspected before it's time to use it. Keep the flues clean throughout the season to prevent creosote buildup and reduce the chance of fires.

*If you're doing a rehab and walls are exposed, by all means install insulation -- there are some great sales this time of year. But if the wall surfaces are intact and in good repair, it may not be cost-effective to tear them out to insulate. It's better to concentrate on windows, doors, furnace efficiency and temperature reductions.

(It's a good idea to evaluate every potential "energy-saving" device or system in terms of energy saved over your tenure in the house. If insulating walls is very expensive, you may not live there long enough to recoup the initial cost.)

There are also some things you should be doing outdoors:

*Turn off outdoor water spigots at the interior shut-off. Drain the pipes and bring in the hose.

*Clean out gutters and downspouts. If leaves and other debris prevent water from draining, it may back up under the roof and leak back into the house.

*Check the roof. If you have any doubts about its soundness, now is the time to repair or replace it. If you're due for hot-coating on a flat roof, do it now, because hot-coating can't be done when roofs are wet or covered with snow.

*Be careful when cleaning up summer plantings around the foundation not to leave low spots or holes where water could collect and leak back into the basement.

Finally, clean the heads on the VCR, stock up on cocoa and cider, and check your fuzzy slippers for wear and leaks. It's still a long way to Thanksgiving.

Next: News on the energy-efficiency front.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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