Weatherproof your home for winter

With winter weather quickly approaching, now is the time to start thinking about getting your home ready.

According to Angie Hicks, of consumer group Angie's List,  "It's always important to make sure you have a good energy efficient house because your heating and cooling costs are up to 50% of your home energy costs so any improvements you can make whether your house is old or new can cut down on your monthly bills."

When it comes to your furnace, Angie's List gives this advice:

· An inspection and cleaning of a heating system typically costs between $60 and $85.

· A good cleaning is important because there's lint, a buildup of particles, some rust and other stuff in gas furnaces. There's also soot in an oil furnace. In the case of a heat pump, the outdoor unit actually needs cleaned. Over the summer, you get grass clippings which diminish the ability of the unit to perform to peak.

· An inspection can also reveal a leak of deadly carbon monoxide, which is colorless and odorless.

Angie's List provides these low-cost tips:

· Seal it up: If you can see light coming through the seal of your doors, then you need to add weather stripping to close the cracks. This is simple and cheap to do - usually less than $20 a door. Walk by windows and doors with a lit stick of incense. Drafts will pull the smoke that direction, showing you the drafts. Product that air seal (such as weather stripping and caulking) can qualify for a federal tax credit as long as they come with a Manufacturers Certification Statement.

· Apply film to windows: Window installation kits found at hardware stores cost less than $10. Apply the film to your windows with a hair dryer.

· Install a programmable thermostat: Setting a programmable thermostat at 65 degrees for eight hours a day -- for example, while you're at work -- can save 10 percent on your energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

· Check your air filters on your heating unit each month: A clogged filter restricts airflow, forcing the unit to work harder.

· Insulate your pipes: Insulate vulnerable pipes to avoid damage from freezing temperatures. Insulate pipes located outside and on areas where you have plumbing on the exterior walls

Angie's List tips for hiring a professional for weatherization:

· Replace your HVAC unit: If your furnace has been cranking out the heat for more than 10 years, you might want to consider investing in a new, more efficient heating system. In the long run, high efficiency models will reduce bills and cut down those initial costs for a new system.

· Adding more insulation: If you can see 2-by-4s in the attic, you need more insulation. The coldest climates may need up to 19 inches of insulation; warmer climates can get by with 15 inches. Check there, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors and crawl spaces.

· Replace your windows: If your windows are older and drafty, it's a great time to buy new, energy efficient models that will help lower your energy costs.

· Federal tax credits available: Now through the end of the year, homeowners who add qualifying products such as HVAC units, insulation and windows to their homes can receive a tax credit of up to 30 percent the cost of materials with a maximum credit of $1,500. Check products carefully because not all qualify.

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