To keep heat in your home, find source of leaks, seal them up

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 1, 2008

With fall in full swing and chilly mornings here, now is the time to think about how to reduce energy costs this winter.

“The main thing is to stuff up any cracks you may have in your home with caulking and apply weather stripping around your doors and windows,” said Ellis Cummins, executive officer of the Vicksburg chapter of the Mississippi Home Builders Association. “It may not sound like much, but even small cracks can allow a lot of heat to escape.”

An easy way of finding leaks in your home is by walking around the interior of the house on a windy day with a lighted incense stick. If your home has siding, caulking is usually the best way to seal leaks but it is better to use masonry sealer on a brick home. Sealing the leaks will not only keep heat from escaping, it will also prevent insects from finding refuge from the cold inside your home.

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One potential source of heat leakage homeowners often overlook is exterior electrical outlets, said Cummins. Most home improvement stores sell insulation cloth specifically for outlets. The insulation is installed by taking off the outlet cover, placing the installation on and recovering the outlet.

Along with sealing leaks, adding more insulation to your attic and walls will also reduce the overall leakage of cold air into your home and help cut down on heating expenses.

In addition to thinking about saving energy, Cummins said, it is equally important to take precautions to reduce the risk of house fire or other disaster during the winter.

“If you’re using wood to heat your home or just in a fireplace, it is real important to clean out your chimney before you make your first fire of the season,” he said. “It’s very easy for anything that’s accumulated in the chimney over the summer and fall months to catch fire.”

If your home is heated by furnace, make sure it is working properly by inspecting the thermostat and pilot light, fuel pipe entering your home, flue pipe and heat exchanger. Any cracks in piping or the heat exchanger can allow carbon monoxide to enter your home. An extremely dirty furnace filter can also lead to fires, so make sure it’s clean or replace it. A professional can do an annual check of the furnace and clean it.

To better ensure the flow of heat inside your home, change air filters and take a look at the duct work in your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 60 percent of a home’s heated air can be lost before it ever reaches the vents if there are leaks in the duct work. Ducts generally can be found exposed in attics and crawl spaces. Repairing pinched ducts can help increase air flow, and any gaps in the duct work can be fixed with metal-backed tape.

Ducts should also be vacuumed every few years to clean out dust, animal hair and other debris. A good cleaning of the ducts will increase air flow as well as reduce the amount of pollutants, which can cause respiratory problems.

Lastly, the winter months are an ideal time to put fresh batteries in smoke alarms and make sure they are working properly, as well as making sure those in your household know where the fire extinguishers are located and how to use them.

At a glance

In addition to preparing your home for Mississippi’s normal winter temperatures, which range from lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency recommends preparing for extreme winter weather by:

* Having sufficient heating fuel in case regular fuel sources are cut off. For example, store dry, seasoned wood that can be used in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

* Winterizing your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment.

* Cutting away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during an ice storm.

* Insulating pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic, and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.

* Learning how to shut off water valves in case a pipe bursts.

Contact Steve Sanoski at