Start now to prepare your home for winter
Windows and doors
Weatherstrip around doors and windows to keep heat in and cold air out. If your windows are old and a little creaky, you've probably already installed storm windows, but you might also think about adding a third layer of glass or clear plastic on the inside of the window. A standard 2by 4-inch stud wall with fiberglass insulation has an R value of about 11, but a single pane window has an R value of less than 2. Adding a storm window brings that value to around 4, but that's still not a high value. Adding an airtight layer of clear plastic on the inside of the window can get the R value up to 7. A true triple-pane window can have an R value of up to 8. As the north side of your house is the coldest side, and the side that lets in the least amount of sunlight, it makes sense to insulate that side as tightly as possible.
Argon filled triple-pane window can have an R value of 10, close to that of a wall. Argon filled windows are expensive, but with fuel prices rising it may pay to take a look at the cost benefit. Lowemissivity glass is another option if you are fitting new window glass. This type of glass allows heat into the house but keeps UV radiation out, and cuts down on heat escaping through the window. The next most expensive glass is MC-low e-glass and super-MClow e-glass. Both of these types are UV-resistant, tempered, and recommended for use in roof areas of solariums or other large expanses of glass. The light transmittance of both of these types of glass is about 65 to 70 percent.
You can also cut down on the amount of heat escaping from your home by using heavy drapes on your windows and drawing the drapes when the sun goes down. Insulated drapes can bring the R value up by 3 or 4 points.
The soft white fluorescent 60w and 100w lights available from many hardware stores make it hard to distinguish between fluorescent and incandescent lighting, but the soft white fluorescents only use 23 watts of electricity to emit 100 watts worth of light. This gives you a savings of about 75 percent on your electric bill. By replacing 40 bulbs in your home with fluorescents, you will save 77 watts x 40 or 3,080 watts. That's three kilowatts of electricity. In other words, you'd save about the same amount of power as the three largest burners on your electric stove use when turned to high and left
on for the evening! Right now, you can buy 100 watt fluorescent bulbs for around $2 to $3 each compared to incandescents at about a $1 each.
If you have a gas or oil furnace, make sure it is tuned to burn most efficiently. If your burner is an old one, you may find that it will pay to have a new burner installed. The cost is around $700 to $900 depending on the furnace and can be done in a morning. Call Elliot's Heating Service at 423-WARM to get your furnace cleaned and checked, but I can tell you from experience, you may have to wait a long time. He is that much in demand.
Check, too, that your vents are clean and unobstructed, and that your humidifier is working properly. In the middle of winter, having a humidifier can make you feel much warmer since humidified air feels warmer to the skin.
Automatic setback thermostats also help you to save energy. Set your thermostat to come on just before you get up, turn the heat down when you are at work. Have the heat come up again just before you get home from work and have it go down again just before you go to bed.
Your wood stove
If you heat with wood, make sure it is stacked away from the house - to keep insects out of the house walls - but near to your door so that you don't have to dig through the snow to find your woodpile. Make sure that your wood is seasoned, and if necessary, cover it with a tarp to keep it dry.
If you have a wood stove, make sure there is nothing combustible within 3 feet of the stove or you may get an unexpected visit from the fire department. Get your chimney cleaned before the winter burning season starts. A dirty flue can also lead to an unscheduled visit by the fire truck.
If you love a good fire in the hearth, you may be letting warm heated air go up the chimney. By fitting a glass screen in front of your fireplace, you can close
off the screen to stop indoor heat going up the chimney after the fire goes out at night. Remember to close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. If you have fireplaces that are not going to be used all winter, make a laminate of two sheets of plywood with a Styrofoam insulation core and cut it to fit the opening. It will keep heat in the room and not allow it to go up the chimney. Note that you should only use Styrofoam or other insulation if there will never be a fire in the hearth. If Styrofoam catches fire, it gives off toxic fumes.
While you are at it, check all your smoke detectors by pressing the little button on the front. If you have battery-powered detectors, replace each battery today. Don't leave it or the detector may start beeping for a new battery in the middle of the night.
Nothing is more annoying in the middle of winter than to find that one of your gutters is blocked. On a freezing cold day, you have to get out a ladder and clean a gutter. This fall make sure all your gutters are clean after the leaves have fallen. You can do this in several ways. First, you can use a cover over the gutter that allows rainwater to flow around the curved edge and into the gutter. While this works fine for moderate rainfalls, water tends to flow right off the edge of the cover in heavy rains. You can also buy a perforated cover that allows rainwater to flow through the cover but keeps leaves out. This is my preferred option. A third method is to buy a hose end fitting with a curved tip that can be hooked into a gutter to blast any debris out.
Check downspouts too. Locate them where the rainwater is not going to flow back into your basement. That means you may have to reroute the downspout away from the house to a slope where it can channel water away. Remember, too, that a lot of water flowing from a downspout can blast mulch away from flower beds
Getting ready for snowfall means laying in some salt, snow shovels, and possibly a good broom. When snow is predicted, put everything ready by your front door. If you brush or shovel snow before it gets walked on, it is a lot easier to move. Of course, if your driveway is long, you might want to invest in a snow blower. For a few hundred bucks, you'll be able blow all your snow into your neighbors yard and sit there beaming while he shovels out. With that, have a fun winter with lots of sledding and skiing. Me, I'm going sailing in the Caribbean.