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A Fall Checklist for Your Home’s Interior

Keep your home operating at peak efficiency this winter! These 9 to-dos will help protect your property and lower your utility bills.

While preparing the outside of your home for cold weather—cleaning gutters, turning off outside faucets, etc.—is essential, it’s just as helpful to prep the interior. The following 9 inside jobs, most of which you can do yourself, can help lower your utility bills and protect the investment in your home.

1. Tune Up Your Heating System

For about $80 to $100, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good repair, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon monoxide leakage.

If you act soon, you’ll beat the rush when the temperature starts dropping. Look for a heating and air conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence program. The contractor should follow the ACCA’s “national standard for residential maintenance” protocol—or the QM, short for quality maintenance.

2. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

If your ceiling fan has a reverse switch, use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. Energy Star says the fan will produce an updraft and push heated air from the ceiling (remember, hot air rises) down into the room.

This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings. And it might even allow you to turn down your thermostat by a degree or two for greater energy savings.

3. Caulk Around Windows and Doors

If gaps between siding and window or door frames are bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk. Check the joints in window and door frames too. Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it won’t shrink and it’s impervious to the elements.

Try GE’s Silicone II Window and Door product, which is “rain ready” in three hours ($6 at Home Depot). Check window glazing putty too (which seals glass into the window frame). Add weather-stripping as needed around doors, making sure you cannot see any daylight from inside your home.

4. Call a Chimney Sweep

Before you burn the Yule log, make sure your fireplace (or any heating appliance burning gas, oil, wood or coal), chimney and vents are clean and in good repair. That will prevent chimney fires and prevent carbon monoxide from creeping into your home.

Search for a sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. You can expect to pay about $50 to $90 for an inspection to see if your chimney needs cleaning and about $100 to $300 for the actual cleaning.

5. Drain Sediment from Your Water Heater

To ensure your water heater’s performance and longevity, drain it annually to get rid of accumulated sediment—sand, minerals or other non-soluble stuff that settles at the bottom of the tank. A good tip-off that you need to do this? The heater sounds like a coffee pot, making bubbling or burping noises.

The basic strategy: Attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the rank and run it outdoors or to a utility tub.

6. Protect Your Pipes

Frozen pipes are among the most common causes of cold weather damage. Start by wrapping basement and crawl space pipes with insulation. During protracted cold snaps, open cabinets to allow warm air to flow around the pipes, and let water drip slowly from the faucets to prevent pressure from building up.

If you’re leaving town for a while—if you’re a snowbird, for example—set the thermostat no lower than 60 degrees. Or consider installing a device that automatically shuts off your home’s water supply if it detects unusually high water flow, which could result from a burst pipe. These devices can cost about $500 to $2,500, but they could earn you a homeowners insurance discount. Or you could spend about $75 to $150 for sensors that detect a strong water flow and sound an alarm or alert your security system or mobile device. Give a friend or neighbor access to your home, and show that person where the water shut-off valve is in case a pipe bursts.

7. Perform a General Safety Check

First, inspect your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Vacuum all units with a soft brush attachment; then, test the power source by pressing the test button on the device. Replace batteries as needed.

While you’re in safety mode, check out your fire extinguishers. Replace any devices that have expired. For the rest, make sure all pressure indicators show a charge and that all lock pins are intact. Clear discharge nozzles of any debris.

Fall is also a good time to check your home for radon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 1 in 15 homes have radon levels that must be addressed, generally 4 picocuries per liter or more; many more have levels that should be address, generally 2 pCi/L or more. Inexpensive radon test kits (starting at less than $20) are available in home improvement stores and online. And if you do have a problem, your state radon office can help you source qualified contractors.

8. Inspect Your Attic

Check all vent openings, making sure to move boxes or other items out of the way. Wipe vents down with a damp cloth and clear any debris.

Perform a visual sweep for evidence of moisture—such as warped or degraded wooden framing—and the presence of mold or mildew. Look for any displaced insulation and signs of pests, such as nests or droppings.

9. Clean and Maintain Major Appliances

Protect your investment in the big appliances in your home by keeping them at peak performance. Follow manufacturer cleaning instructions for exterior and interior surfaces (look online if you tossed the manual). The following routine maintenance tips are also a good idea:

Check washing machine hoses frequently for rusting, bulging, cracking, fraying and leaks—all signs that you should replace them immediately. While you’re at it, check the hoses leading to water heaters, dishwashers and refrigerator ice-makers.

To ensure a good seal, wipe down and replace loose gaskets on the doors of your refrigerator and dishwasher. Check the dishwasher drain for any blockages.

Clean refrigerator coils with a vacuum wand or a long-handled brush. Coils on older models may be located in the back; coils on newer models are generally accessible by removing a grill on the front of the unit.

Is it time for a new and improved model? When routine maintenance is not enough and it’s time to replace a major appliance, check out the GE Appliance Store. The GE Appliance Store is an exclusive, online shopping site where NEA members can purchase high-quality appliances at discount prices.
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