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Getting your home ready for winter

Yesterday, it got up to 83 degrees here in Austin, tying a 51-year-old record for the day.

Forecasters say it should be comfortable for most of today. Later this afternoon, though, temperatures will start dropping. And on Thanksgiving, most Central Texas thermometers are expected to make it only into the low 50s.

Now I know that's not cold. But forecasters say the front bringing in the lower temps, along with gusty north winds and some rain, marks our official weather season shift. So when we turn on our furnaces this evening to combat overnight readings in the 30s and 40s, they'll likely stay on until spring arrives.

Readying the residence: Many of you probably have already gotten your homes ready for winter. But for folks living in more temperate climes and who are just now (or not quite yet) feeling fall's first real chill, now's the time for some crucial pre-winter home tasks.

Winterize This MSN article suggests things such as cleaning gutters, caulking leaks, adding insulation and, one of my favorite energy-saving moves, reversing your ceiling fan.

This really works. Changing the direction -- usually going from a counterclockwise to clockwise spin as you look up at the fan -- will push warm air downward, keeping you more comfortable and preventing your heater from coming on so often.

Ah, the heater. The primary home winterization step you need to take is checking out your heating system before you absolutely need it.

The hubby and I did this last week when we climbed up into the attic to replace the filter in the new air handler we got installed this summer. That fiscal adventure, right at the peak of air conditioning season, is recounted in this blog entry.

An alarming odor: The new filter system was a bit of a challenge, especially since the installer didn't leave us an operation manual (thank goodness for the Internet!). But what really caught my attention was the faint odor of gas.

It wasn't much, and the hubby didn't even smell it. But I did, so I called the HVAC company. They sent a guy out who confirmed that my nose was up to snuff, or rather sniff. Thankfully, a connection just needed a little tightening.

The technician also double checked other connections and showed us a couple of new programming features of the thermostat we also had installed during the summer.

Even better, the work was still under warranty, so we didn't face a charge for our preseason checkup.

While gas leaks, however small, are not common (I hope!), you still need to have your system checked out annually. As Free Money Finance notes here, "This is more than a pocketbook issue, since poorly functioning systems can cause deadly carbon monoxide buildup in your home."

Now we're ready, at least as far as the heater goes, for the chill to arrive.

Just in case you have a natural gas heating system (and are a worrier like me), I want to share with you some tips on detecting natural gas leaks that came in our most recent bill.


Click the image above (or this link in case the photo doesn't show up in your browser or feed reader) for the full gas company fact sheet (bilingual, PDF format).

More winterization tips: Lots of bloggers recently have offered their ideas on getting your abode ready for winter. Here are a few:

InnStyle Montana also has some suggestions on Winterizing Simply. This bed and breakfast owner in one of the country's coldest states says you can reduce your home’s energy use by using space heaters, properly operating the aforementioned ceiling fans, and warming your body instead of the air around you.

"There are many ways to warms your body that require no energy at all!" declares InnStyle.

Remember the tax break: If you can get that body warmth comment out of your head for a minute, let's concentrate on the tax benefits of energy efficient home improvements.

Energy_star_logo Under a federal law that took effect Jan. 1, 2006, you can claim a tax credit of up to $500 for some relatively easy residential upgrades that meet Energy Star standards. The one thing to be careful of is that the $500 write-off covers improvements made in both 2006 and 2007. So if you already claimed that amount on your 2006 return, you're out of luck now.

But if you haven't used up the tax break or claimed only part of it on last year's 1040, then things such as adding insulation, putting in replacement windows or even tinting existing windows and doors will count (up to that overall $500 maximum) on your 2007 return as long as the work is done by Dec. 31.

Details on the credit and eligible home improvements can be found at this Energy Star page.


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Mark D. Tyrol

How To Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills.

Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Attic Stairs

When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

Whole House Fans and AC Returns

Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.

If attic access is inconvenient, or for AC returns, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter and AC return. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed.


Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? Hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when warm heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes. At Battic Door Energy Conservation Products, we have developed solutions to these and other energy-conservation related issues.

For more information on Battic Door’s energy conservation solutions and products, visit or send a S.A.S.E. to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.

Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and a fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit


Thanks for the mention!

It's a "bit" colder here -- supposed to get 4 inches of snow today. ;-)

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