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Winter Tips to Improve Your Home

With winter just around da corner, now is surely the time to give your home the once-over.

1. Check your duct systems for air leaks.

Many think that windows and doors are the major cause of a home's air leaks. But according to recent research, gaps, cracks and disconnections in the typical home's duct system are much more significant. A typical duct system loses 25% to 40% of the energy put out by the central boiler, heat pump or air conditioner. Leaks are usually the biggest problem.

2. Close any crawlspace vents.

If your home or any part of it are over a crawlspace, make sure the vents are closed for the winter. They should only be open for spring and autumn. Recent research finds that in most climates, leaving them open in the summer actually brings in more unwanted moisture! Many building scientists are now recommending drying out crawlspaces, covering the exposed soil with a sealed plastic vapor barrier, and sealing and insulating the crawlspace walls permanently. Stayed tuned for more information on this topic.

3. Ask your heating contractor to perform an "blower door" test.

The blower door is a computerized instrument that pinpoints where your home's worst air leaks are, and also measures a home's overall leakiness. While most homes are still far too leaky, some are too airtight, and need mechanical ventilation to ensure the air inside is fresh.

4. Replace your boiler or heat pump air filter.

Most systems need this done every month to ensure safe and efficient operation. (Some systems, such as electronic air cleaners, need to be thoroughly washed.) Consider upgrading your system's air filter. The standard filter is there to help protect the equipment, not to clean the air in your home. Ask your heating contractor for information on new high efficiency air filters that can capture over 90% of the breathable particles of concern.

5. Have your heating system cleaned and tuned by a qualified contractor.

A pre-season tune up is a good investment. It reduces the chances of breakdowns in the middle of winter, and more than pays for itself through more energy efficient operation. While it is geared more towards finding a good contractor to replace old equipment, many of the tips are valuable for identifying a good service company.

6. Have your system checked for carbon monoxide and install a CO alarm.

When performing a boiler tune up, a good contractor will also offer to test your system for hazardous carbon monoxide (CO). CO can be produced by a dirty or malfunctioning gas or oil boiler or water heater. Every home should have at least one CO alarm. They are available from most heating contractors, as well as many retail outlets.

7. Adjust your thermostat to a cooler temperature when away or when sleeping.

Why heat your house when no-one's at home or everyone's under the blankets? Even just a five degree setback each night can save up to 10% on your heating bill. Save even more by setting back during the day when no-one's home. Even though the system will run a while to warm the house up, you still save money. If it's too much bother, ask your contractor to install a new programmable automatic thermostat. The new ones are reliable and very easy to use. You don't want your house to freeze up either, because cracked pipes can prove disastrous for home insurance claims.

8. Consider replacing your old boiler or heat pump.

Just like a car, heating equipment doesn't last forever. If your system is over 12 years old and you are planning to stay in your home more than a few years, many authorities recommend considering replacing it before it fails permanently. A new system is safer, more dependable, and can pay for itself by being up to twice as energy efficient.

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