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You can winterize your home in 3 hours

The Baltimore Sun

Ideally, consumers in cold regions have winterized their homes by now in an effort to save energy and money.

But for busy people, back-to-school season soon becomes Halloween, and before you know it Thanksgiving is approaching, and the winterizing to-do list was lost in the bustle.

It's not too late, and it's worth doing. Heating bills this winter likely will be much higher than last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts.

If you are pinched for time and money, here are heat-saving tips that you could probably complete in three hours for less than $100.

Make a plan.

Sit down with pen and paper and devise a plan for controlling temperature in your home. At what times of day can you set the thermostat really low, without risk of freezing pipes, of course?

While you're home, can you set the temperature at 68 degrees instead of 72 if everyone in the household agrees to wear sweaters and slippers around the house?

Can you be comfortable at 64 degrees? Will flannel pajamas and an extra blanket allow you to lower the temperature into the 50s at night?

If someone is home all day, make it a routine to open drapes on the sunny side of the house to let in heat. Otherwise, close drapes to help further insulate windows.

If you're undisciplined about adjusting the thermostat, buy an Energy Star-rated programmable thermostat. This device is easy to install and costs about $100. You could make back the cost with one year's worth of energy savings.

Close vents.

If you have a central heating system with ductwork, go around the house and close heating vents in rooms you don't use daily, especially those where you can close the door and seal off the room. If you have rooms with individual thermostats, keep seldom-used rooms cool.

Seal leaks.

Walk around the inside of your home. Hold a candle or other flame near the seams in your windows and exterior doors. If the flame and smoke blow inward, you know you have a leak.

"For a pretty modest investment, you can get products like caulking, weather-stripping and foam sealant to plug up those leaks," said Ronnie Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, a group that promotes efficient and clean use of energy.

Also, check recessed lights, baseboards, electrical outlets to exterior walls and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. As an alternative to adding expensive storm windows, you can cover drafty windows with plastic sheeting installed on the inside.

Then examine the exterior of your house, looking for cracks and gaps, not only around windows and doors, but in pipe cutouts to the outdoors, chimneys and the foundation.

For more on sealing, see the publication "A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Energy Star Home Sealing" by the Environmental Protection Agency. Call 888-782-7937 or get it online at (Look under Home Improvement for the Air Seal and Insulate link).

Seal ducts.

Seal leaky air ducts at joints, starting at the furnace air handler, and insulate ducts that run through unheated basements or attics.

In a typical house, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks and poorly sealed connections, according to the federal Energy Star program.

But duct tape isn't the answer. Use a mashed potato-like duct sealant called mastic - the water-based kind. Or use metallic duct tape with an UL-181 rating. Search the EnergyStar site for the online brochure, "Duct Sealing" (also under Air Seal and Insulate).

Change furnace air filters.

Buy a dozen filters to last you through a year's worth of monthly changes. If you already have filters in the house, you will be more likely to change them monthly. You don't need fancy air filters. Cheap ones that cost $1 or less each work. Also, cover the filter slot with a piece of wide tape to make sure all the air goes through the filter. Dirty filters block airflow through your heating and cooling systems, increasing your energy bill and shortening the equipment's life.

Do it now.

Make energy improvements before the end of the year to take advantage of tax credits that expire after Dec. 31. The credit probably won't amount to big bucks, but it is worth learning about. For example, you would get back 10 percent of what you spend on sealing and insulation, up to $500.

Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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