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Winter survival guide for you house

A regular schedule keeps the work and related expenses under control
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Looking after a home isn't child's play. It requires constant work and careful budgeting.

Here's how to get through this winter without burst pipes, broken furnaces, heat loss, ice dams, house fires, flooded basements, unwanted critters, huge energy bills, cold feet and other problems that can plague the homeowner in frigid-weather.

CHIMNEY

? Have it inspected by a professional chimney inspector every year.

? Have it cleaned every year or two, or more if you have a lot of fires or tend to burn softer woods.

? A chimney cap with a rain hood and screen will minimize rain damage and keep critters out.

FIREPLACE

? Stock up on clean, dry firewood. A fireplace store can recommend someone to deliver and stack it for you. Store it away from your house to keep mice and other vermin at a distance.

? Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. When you're using it, turn down the thermostat and open a window near the fireplace to prevent warm air from being pulled from other parts of the house.

? Install glass doors on the fireplace to keep warm air from being drawn up the chimney.

? If you use the fireplace frequently, a fireplace insert improves efficiency by blowing heat into the room and limiting heat loss up the chimney.

KEEP THE COLD OUT AND THE HEAT IN

? Reducing air leaks and properly insulating walls, crawl spaces and floors can cut energy bills by up to 10 per cent. Seal leaky ducts with metal-backed tape or aerosol sealant. Consider having your insulation updated to save money, improve comfort and lower the risk of ice dams.

? Set your thermostat between 18 and 21 degrees (65 to 70 F) when you're home; lower it when you're sleeping or away from home for more than a few hours. Use a programmable thermostat to make the switches automatic.

? On sunny days, open curtains and blinds to let the warmth in. Close them at night to trap warmth inside.

? Close or install storm windows, which reduce drafts and frost formation and can cut heat loss through the window by 25 to 50 per cent. For a cheaper alternative, cover windows with plastic. Or consider sealed, double-or triple-glazed windows.

? Schedule a home energy audit through your energy company. This involves a professional coming to inspect your home and identify ways you can save on energy, including windows, insulation, and heating and cooling systems.

KEEP ROOMS TOASTY

? Run your ceiling fan at low speed in reverse direction (clockwise) so the blades drive warm air down into the room.

HEATING

? Change your furnace filters per the manufacturer recommendations. Most homes are built with a 2.5centimetre-thick filter that should be changed monthly.

? Clean your furnace before the first cold spell. If your furnace isn't too dirty, you can save money by vacuuming the blades yourself.

? Get acquainted with your house's ductwork. Most homes are equipped with dampers, allowing you to change the volume of heat delivered upstairs, downstairs and all rooms in-between.

PLUMBING

? Disconnect your garden hose, shut off the water valve and drain the spigot - even if you have a frost-free faucet.

? Drain the sediment from your water heater. This should be done once or twice every year.

PESTS

? Repair any exterior dam-age that might invite vermin. Carpenter ants like leaky pipes, warped storm windows and tattered roof shingles, whereas frayed screens and chewed-through door sweeps attract rodents.

your garage of ? Clear mice-magnets, especially if you have an attached garage. This isn't the place to stash woodpiles and unsealed birdseed.

GUTTERS

? Clean debris from gutters and downspouts. Open any roof drains or vents.

ROOF

? Check the caulking around vents and chimneys and other roof protrusions to make sure the seal is tight.

? If you tend to have problems with snow and ice backup, consider installing electrical heat tapes to keep melted snow flowing off the roof.

? If you use an ice rake to remove snow from your roof to avoid ice dams, make sure you rake all the way to the roof's peak, or dams could form above the rake line.

SPRING

? To prevent a flooded basement, caulk any gaps in your sidewalks, especially those nearest the house.

INFORMATION SOURCES

Crystal Manik, senior marketing business consultant for Xcel Energy, Minneapolis;

Eric Siedow, technician for Chimney Guys; Rodney Pierce, salesperson for Genz-Ryan Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning;

Colleen Cannon, staff entomologist for Plunkett's Pest Control;

Bill Yares, president of Twin Cities Home Evaluations;

Stacy Reese, manager of Walker Roofing.

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