Biggest Mistakes When Heating Homes

With winter here to stay for the next few months, and thermostats are working overtime. That means high heating costs for a lot of us, but there are ways to make sure those bills stay as low as possible this winter. Here are six mistakes homeowners commonly make when heating their homes, and how you can avoid these pitfalls in the coming months.

1. Turning Up a Thermostat Too High To Heat a Cold House Quickly

When coming home to a cold house, it might be tempting to turn the heater up into the 80s to try to heat it faster. But thermostats don’t work like an accelerator on a car, as the Telegraph reports, and turning the heat up to blistering levels won’t warm your home faster. So just be patient and it will save you money.

2. Turning the Thermostat Way Down at Night

It’s best to avoid extremes with your thermostat. If you let the temperature in your house fall dramatically overnight, it’s going to require a lot of work from your heating system to warm the home in the morning. That could really cost you when the heating bill arrives.

3. Overworking a Thermostat That Has Its Limits

If you want the house to be 70 degrees and your thermostat is only reaching 66 degrees, turning the thermostat up to 74 degrees in an attempt to make up the difference could be a huge mistake. The furnace could be forced to work beyond its capability. Instead, find out what’s causing the problem and fix it. Heat could be escaping somewhere in your home, or you may need to replace a faulty furnace.

4. Heating an Empty House

In this day and age of controlling everything from a phone app, one of the easiest ways to save money is to install a system that can be adjusted remotely. Heating an empty home is one of the easiest ways to waste money, so a programmable thermostat can save hundreds of dollars every year. Giving your thermostat a break every day – but don’t overdo it; see No. 2 – can also be beneficial to a longer life for your heating system.

5. Leaving Curtains Closed on Sunny Days

While your home is vacant, open the curtains to allow as much heating sunlight into your dwelling as possible. It’s most important that all south-facing windows are left uncovered. Solar warmth can go a long way not only in heating a house, but also in helping to give the furnace a break during the warmest hours of the day.

6. Not Locking Your Windows

In the summer, it’s common for homeowners to have a constant tango between opening the windows and keeping them closed to let the air conditioner do the hard work of keeping a home cool. It’s understandable if you forgot to lock those windows up before the cold weather arrives, but take the time now to ensure all windows are locked and sealed to keep warm air from escaping.

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The Winter Prep

Christmas is almost here and before you know it, we all may be shoveling snow out of our walkways.  In fact, this Saturday the Delaware Valley may get one to three inches of snow with temperatures dropping to twenty seven degrees on Friday.  With that being said, prepping your home is vital to avoid potential disasters from occurring.  Here’s a quick winter prep list:

  1. Install Weatherstripping
  2. Install a Door Sweep
  3. Seal Any Attic Leaks
  4. Close the Damper
  5. Check Thermostats or Replace Them
  6. Replace Heating Filters
  7. Seal Any Ducting Leaks
  8. Have Your Furnace Serviced
  9. Insulate Your Hot Water Tank
  10. Wrap Plumbing Pipes That May Freeze
  11. Shut Off Water to Exterior Plumbing Sources
  12. Reverse Direction of Ceiling Fans
  13. Seal Off Any Leaks in the Home
  14. As Always, Check Batteries in Your Smoke Alarms

Following some easy and low tips for your home can reduce the chances of damage leading to costly repairs, while also reducing energy costs during a cold winter.

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Fall Home Checklist

Before the weather grows colder it’s important to prepare for the winter months to prevent costly damage. Below are the fall preventative home maintenance steps that every homeowner should follow.

Gutters and Downspouts

Clean gutters and downspouts frequently throughout fall to prevent build up of leaves and other debris. Neglected gutters can lead to wood rot problems and pest infestations, not to mention ruined gutters. Be sure water is not coming down behind gutters and that all support brackets are securely in place. Ensure that water drains properly and doesn’t pool. Pooling can cause damage to foundations, driveways, and walkways.

Windows and Doors

Change summer screens to cool weather storm windows and doors. Inspect and repair any loose or damaged window or door frames. Install weather stripping or caulking around windows and doors to prevent drafts and to lower heating bills.

Heating Systems

Replace the filter in your furnace. Consider having a heating professional check your heating system to ensure optimal performance and discover minor problems before they turn into costly major repairs. Clean your ducts to better your heating system’s efficiency as well as to reduce household dust and to provide relief to those with respiratory problems.

Plumbing

To prevent pipes freezing and bursting, ensure that the pipes are well insulated. Know how to locate and turn off the water shut-off valve in case pipes do freeze.

Chimney and Fireplace

Call a professional in to inspect and clean your chimney. Fireplaces that are regularly used during the season should have an annual cleaning to prevent dangerous chimney fires. Test your fireplace flue for a tight seal when closed.

Attic ventilation

Be sure attic insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves to prevent winter ice dams on the roof.Be sure ridge vents and vents at eaves are free of plants and debris. Check bird and rodent screens for attic vents to prevent any unwanted guests.

Landscape and Yard Work

Although grass appears to stop growing in the fall, the roots are actually growing deeper to prepare for winter. Now is the best time to fertilize and reseed your lawn. Prune your trees and shrubs after the leaves turn to encourage healthy growth. Trim any tree limbs that are dangerously close to power lines or the roof of your house. Heavy snow and ice can cause damage in the winter.

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7 Spring Maintenance Tips

Spring arrives with a warm welcome. For those who’ve been trapped inside their homes to stay out of the cold, now is the time to rediscover the outside world. It’s also time to conduct some home maintenance that will help you avoid big repair bills later on. Start with these 15 tasks to get your home in good shape.

Inspect Your Roof – Whether you have shingles, tin or concrete tiles, your roof is your home’s first line of defense against water damage. If you delay repairing spots on your roof that need fixing, you could find yourself facing water damage inside your home the next time a storm hits.

Clean Your Gutters – Gutters direct rain away from your roof and home, protecting both in the process. Clogged gutters, meanwhile, open your home to water damage—and there’s a good chance you won’t notice the damage until you need an expensive repair

HVAC Filters – You need to do this more than once a year. A dirty filter forces your heat, ventilation and air-conditioning system to work harder, which in turn drains your wallet.

Dryer Vents – Not all lint gets caught in the lint trap; some makes its way into the dryer vent. A clean vent will save you money by reducing the time your dryer has to run, while a plugged vent not only wastes money but could cause a house fire.

Smoke Detector Battery Replacement – You never know when you’ll need them. Sometimes it’s a matter of life or death, so take the time to change the batteries now.

Check Seals – Winter weather can crack and harden caulk and other weather seals. Inspect them and repair or replace as needed. You’ll reduce your air-conditioning bill and prevent water from entering your home and causing damage.

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HVAC Filter Change – Part 2

Your HVAC or furnace technician should service your unit once a year. Because a furnace/HVAC unit contains moving parts, it’s important that belts are not cracked and dry, ventilation ductwork is not gapped, cracked or rusted, and components, such as coils and fans, are clog-free and adequately lubricated for unimpeded operation. This sort of evaluation is best left to the professional, unless the homeowner has had the appropriate training. The filter of the unit, especially if it’s an HVAC unit that will tend to get nearly year-round use, should be changed by the homeowner at least every three months, but possibly more often.

Check your filter’s condition and change it once a month if:

  • You run your unit six months a year to year-round.
  • You have pets. Pet dander can become airborne and circulate through the home’s ventilation system just as typical household dust does.
  • You have a large family. More activity means more household dust, dirt and debris.
  • You smoke indoors.
  • You or someone in your household suffers from allergies or a respiratory condition.
  • You live in a particularly windy area or experience high winds for extended periods, especially if there are no nearby shrubs or trees to provide a natural windbreak.
  • You live in an area prone to or having recently experienced any wildfires. Airborne ash outdoors will eventually find its way indoors.
  • You have a fireplace that you occasionally use.
  • You live on a working farm or ranch. Dust and dirt that gets kicked up by outdoor work activity and/or large animals can be pulled into the home’s ventilation system, especially through open windows.
  • You have a large garden. Depending on its size and how often you work it, tilling soil, planting, pulling weeds, using herbicides and pesticides, and even watering mean that dirt, chemicals and condensation can be pulled into your home’s ventilation system.
  • There is construction taking place around or near the home. You may be installing a new roof or a pool, or perhaps a neighbor is building a home or addition. Even if the activity is only temporary, dust and debris from worksites adjacent to or near the home can be sucked into the home’s ventilation system, and this increased activity can tax your HVAC system.

Prepping for Winter

The temperatures have fallen into single digits the last few nights, and with that comes potential dangers to your home. Here are some tips for getting your home in order to handle a winter storm:

  • Clean out gutters, disconnect and drain all outside hoses. If possible, shut off outside water valves.
  • Insulate walls and attics, and caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Repair roof leaks and remove tree branches that could become weighted down with ice or snow and fall on your house or your neighbor’s house.
  • Wrap water pipes in your basement or crawl spaces with insulation sleeves to slow heat transfer.
  • Consider an insulated blanket for your hot water heater.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep the flue closed when you’re not using it.
  • Have a contractor check your roof to see if it would sustain the weight of a heavy snowfall.
  • Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking your home’s heating vents.
  • During cold spells, keep cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around pipes, particularly those in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through unheated or unprotected spaces.
  • If your house will be unattended during cold periods, consider draining the water system.
  • Avoid ice dams by keeping water from melted snow from refreezing in the gutters and seeping under the roof and soaking interior walls.

Here’s how:

  • Ventilate your attic. The colder it is, the less melting and refreezing on the roof.
  • Insulate the attic floor well to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic from within the house.
  • Consider having a water-repellent membrane installed under your roof covering.

Window Tips

October may still be warm enough to have your windows open, but it’s already time begin thinking about the cold weather ahead. Early fall is a great time toinstall storm windows and reap the benefits of lower heating costs this winter.

In colder climates, storm windows on single pane glass can reduce heat loss through the window by 25% to 50% and lower your heating costs by as much as 13%! And the savings jump to 20% if the storm windows have a low-E coating.

If your home already has storm windows, this is a great time to clean and close them. Removable screens can be taken down, scrubbed, and put away until spring. While it’s not necessary to remove screens in winter, the added light can help brighten up your house on dark winter days.

If storm windows aren’t an option for you, an alternative is to seal out cold drafts using plastic window insulation kits. These are applied over the inside of the window with self-adhesive tape. A warm hair blower is then used to heat and shrink the plastic to make it tight and nearly invisible.

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Changing Your Filters

Regular maintenance of your home heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) is critical to ensure its long life and efficient operation. Proper maintenance of this system can help keep your loved ones safe from extreme temperatures —and may also help save you some money.

The HVAC system heats your home during the cold winter months and keeps your home cool in the sweltering summer. Regularly changing the HVAC air filter is critical for its long life. The air filter keeps pollution and debris out of your HVAC system, ensuring proper and efficient operation. A dirty filter will slow down the air flow, making both the furnace work harder to heat your home and your AC work harder to cool it. This wastes energy and can result in higher energy bills.

How Often?

According to Energystar.gov, the filters on your home system likely need to be changed either once a month or once every three months, depending on the type you’re using. You should check the product information on the filters for the manufacturer’s suggested frequency of change. Depending on where you live, the time of year, and how much you’re using your AC or furnace, you may end up having to change your air filter more frequently. For instance, during a steamy summer when you’re running your system constantly, you may end up having to change the filter more often than if the weather is nice and you’re relying on open windows.

Depth Needed For Insulating Attics

Whether you live in a warm-weather state, as I do, or in a cooler northern climate, it’s hard to stay comfortable and keep your energy bills in check if you don’t have adequate insulation in the attic. But many homeowners I talk with don’t know how much is enough. The answer depends on where you live. Typically, houses in warm-weather states should have an R-38 insulation in the attic, whereas houses in cold climates should have R-49. These insulation levels will keep heated air from migrating out in winter. In a cooling climate, a good blanket of attic insulation helps keep the house cooler and reduces the load on air-conditioning equipment.

Most attics are insulated with blown-in loose cellulose (R-3.5 per inch), blown-in loose fiberglass (R-2.5 per inch) or fiberglass batts (R-3.2 per inch). Cellulose is recycled newsprint treated with a fire retardant. Fiberglass is just that–thin fibers of glass that trap air. To determine if you need more insulation, measure what’s in place with a ruler or tape. The chart included below shows you the approximate thickness of each type of insulation you should ideally have in the attic. When you do the measuring, make sure you have plenty of light to work by, and work on a cool day. And be careful not to step through the ceiling.

You can install fiberglass batts yourself right over existing insulation, but follow these precautions:

  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, eye protection and a dust mask.
  • Make sure you use an unfaced batt (one without a paper or foil layer) so the insulation does not trap moisture in the ceiling.
  • Lay the batts perpendicular to the joists so they do not compress the insulation below.
  • Don’t cover can lights unless they are rated for contact with insulation. It’s safer to build a small enclosure with hardware cloth or plywood to keep loose insulation away from lights and exhaust fans.
  • Use cardboard or rigid-foam baffles to keep soffit vents open.
  • Fill all cracks between the living area and the attic with caulk or expanding foam.

A tightly sealed house is just as important as insulation. If you decide on loose-fill fiberglass or cellulose, consider hiring a pro to install the material. The equipment pros use blows in material at the correct density. Don’t be concerned if it seems they are installing more insulation than necessary; the material will settle to the right thickness.

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Winterizing An Outdoor Air Conditioner

An outside air conditioning unit, often referred to as an HVAC unit, is a lifesaver during hot summer months. During the winter, you may want to winterize the unit to protect it against cold weather, snow and ice. Winterizing the unit also protects it against rust damage. A few protective measures can keep the air conditioning unit in your real estate investment in top working condition.

  • Find the air conditioning circuit near your unit. Usually, it has a plastic or metal lid that covers the electrical circuit. Open the lid and flip the switch to turn the unit off. This prevents the unit from turning on during an unusually warm winter day, keeping water out of the unit that could potentially freeze.
  • Wash the air conditioning unit with a hose to remove bird droppings, dead bugs, dirt and dust. Remove leaves, small branches and grass clippings from the unit. Allow the unit to dry completely.
  • Install foam pipe covers around exterior exposed pipes. Cut the foam to fit the length and diameter of the pipe. The foam covers insulate the pipes and protect them against freezing temperatures. Wrap duct tape around the foam covers to hold them in place.
  • Cover the HVAC unit with a plastic or vinyl cover. Choose a cover that is waterproof. Some manufacturers make covers that are specifically designed for air conditioners, but you can use any plastic or vinyl covering that fits over the unit.
  • Wrap vinyl ropes or bungee cords around the air conditioning cover to keep it secure. Make sure the cover is wrapped tightly so it doesn’t blow away in strong winds.
  • Check your air conditioner once a week to make sure the cover is secure. Brush water, snow and ice off the unit. Remove twigs, pinecones and leaves from the cover.

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