1. Tune up your furnace: There is no better advice than to have your heating system professionally maintained on a yearly basis. Especially if you have an oil or gas (or propane) fired system. A properly maintained system will ensure a safe and efficiently running system. Make sure that your maintenance company will replace all filters, clean and optimize all fuel nozzles, test all safety controls, and inspect the cabinet and heat exchanger for any possible holes or safety issues.
2. Insulation: The most common and easiest place that you can make a significant impact to your homes comfort is in the attic. Here in the Northeast, we should have enough insulation in our attics to reach at least a rating of R-49. If you have blown-in insulation or rolled batts of insulation, you will need at least 19-20 inches of insulation. It should be fluffy and evenly distributed without any high or low spots or any gaps in coverage. It is very easy to add insulation and there are even some great government incentives to even help you pay for adding more insulation! The most common mistake homeowners make when installing insulation is to block the flow of air at the eaves. NEVER COVER ATTIC SOFFIT VENTS WITH INSULATION — use rafter vents and soffit vents to maintain airflow. Proper attic insulation can have a significant impact on your homes energy efficiency. It has been estimated that for every $1 of energy saved, your home value appreciates $20 at resale!
3. Proper Ventilation: Now that you have the proper level of insulation, you also need to maintain the proper level of attic ventilation. Make sure that your insulation is not blocking the soffit vents and that you have proper air flow. It is best for your attic to be as close to the outside temperature as possible! Improper ventilation is a large contributor to ice dams, and the potential for water intrusion and damage.
4. Control the water: Check your gutters and down spouts. Make sure that they are clean of all leaves and debris. If the water gets trapped in there, it can freeze and damage or even pull the gutters off of your house! Also make sure that all down spouts extend at least 4 feet from your foundation. If your down spouts empty onto your sidewalk or driveway, be sure to keep plenty of salt or ice melt on hand. You may also want to put a safety cone there so that others do not slip and fall on your property.
5. Check your fireplace: Chimney’s that are not working properly are common causes of fire and smoke damage. Make sure that your chimney is clean, the damper is working properly, and that no critters have made a nest in there during the summer. The National Fire Protection Association recommends having your chimney cleaned once a year.
6. Check your smoke and CO detectors: These are the easiest items in your home to take care of, but most homeowners don’t do it! It’s really simple, change the batteries! A common recommendation is to change them when you change your clock 2 times a year. The U.S. Fire Administration tried to make it even easier and said that you only need to change them once a year. Now the maintenance doesn’t end there, but it is still just as easy. Your smoke alarms have an expiration date on them. They will lose their sensitivity over time. They should be replaced every 8-10 years.
7. Insulate exposed pipes: If you have any pipes that are exposed to unheated air, maybe in a crawl space or in a garage, you need to make sure that they are wrapped in pipe insulation. A frozen pipe can burst and cause thousands of dollars in damage and a lot of headaches for you! Also, if you have an outside hose bib or exterior faucets, be sure to shut the water supply off to them and to drain the excess water to prevent damage to the pipes and valves.
8. Add weather stripping: Older windows and doors are notorious for being leaky and drafty. The addition of foam weather stripping or addition of caulking can make a large difference in the heat loss and comfort of your home
9. Cover your AC unit: Your air conditioner’s outdoor condensing unit will last longer and sustain less damage if you cover it during the winter. Not only should it be wrapped in a plastic tarp or a fitted cover, but you can also add additional protection by adding a piece of plywood on top of it. The only time that you should not cover your condenser during the winter, is if you have a heat pump. If you have a heat pump, and you plan on using it to heat your home, do not cover it, as it will not work properly.
10. Winterize your lawn: Your lawn is going dormant for the winter and it needs the nourishment to keep it healthy until the spring. Make sure that you use a winter fertilizer that is high in potassium for the best results.