It happens every year. Summer turns to fall and we’re never ready for the change — and neither are our homes. The coming winter seems to be promising higher fuel costs across the nation, so this year it’s really going to pay to grab a weekend and concentrate your efforts on ways to keep your house warmer and your utility bills more affordable. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

___ Check the heating system: A heating system tune-up is always in order this time of year. This should include changing the filter in your furnace; having your ducts cleaned; checking and possibly increasing insulation over ductwork running through the attic or crawlspace; clearing debris and overhanging shrubbery from around outdoor heat pump equipment; and having faulty or inefficient thermostats repaired or replaced.

___ Check insulation levels: Out of sight, out of mind is something that typically applies to insulation, to make it a point to check your insulation levels and improve them wherever you can. Attic insulation should be R-38 – about 12 to 14 inches of blown fiberglass – and can be easily added to by an insulation contractor if needed. Many house do not have any underfloor insulation, so you want to upgrade that area to R-19 to R-25 by installing fiberglass batts between the floor joists.

___ Stop the drafts: A drafty house is not only uncomfortable to live in, it also wastes money. Check all exterior doors, including the one between the house and the garage. Look for daylight between the door and the frame, and especially between the bottom of the door and sill. Replace or adjust any weather-stripping that is damaged, worn, or not making a tight seal. Check the weather-stripping on windows as well, and contact a glass company if you need help with replacement. Now is also the time to freshen up caulking around doors, windows, plumbing penetrations, and anywhere else that heat-robbing drafts can make their way in.

___ Close foundation vents: If you have opened your foundation vents for the summer to allow accumulated moisture to escape, now’s the time to close them up again.

___ Check fireplace safety and efficiency: Many people depend on their fireplace or woodstove for supplemental heat, and you want to make sure it’s working as well as possible. For conventional fireplaces, give some serious though to installing air-tight glass doors to improve efficiency and reduce drafts. If you already have doors, check and replace the door seals as needed, and adjust door latches and hinges.  Now is also a good time to have the chimney cleaned and checked for problems, and to check spark arrestor caps.

___ Check firewood supplies: To get the maximum heat value from your firewood, it needs to be dry. Take the time now to stack your wood on an elevated platform – old pallets work well – and to make sure that the wood is covered and protected from the elements.

___ Pay attention to indoor safety: If you have a gas fireplace, range, water heater, or other appliance that uses propane or natural gas, the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning appliance increases substantially as we close our homes up for the winter. Fall is the ideal time to install a carbon monoxide detector, which are available from many home centers and retailers of heating system supplies. This is also a great time to have your utility company or heating contractor inspect flues, fittings, and other components of your systems for potential problems.

___ Check smoke detectors: Now is the time we start spending a lot more time indoors, and it’s the ideal reminder that we need to check smoke detectors. Take the time right now to check the operation of detectors, and to change the batteries. If you have an older house with a limited number of smoke detectors, you also need to install additional detectors outside each bedroom.

___ Check the roof: Examine roofing shingles and flashings, and repair or replace them as needed. A roof that leaks not only has the potential to cause significant structural damage, it also wets insulation, which causes a drop in the insulation’s ability to resist heat loss.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at


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