Energy Adviser: Ready home for cooler weather

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While it is unlikely the Vancouver area this winter will experience any minus-10-degree days — the record low in 1919 — the coming cold weather means it is time to weatherize your house for energy savings and comfort.

A good first step is making an appointment with a heating and cooling professional for a system inspection. Such an inspection every couple of years, depending on the type of heating system, can pay off by extending the life of your system and catching problems before they happen.

A technician typically will inspect system components, duct work and the thermostat. In a gas-fired furnace, the professional should check all safety controls and clean the burners on the heat exchanger.

Homes with baseboard or wall heaters don’t need an annual inspection, but the heaters should be cleaned of dust at least once a year.

• Windows: Energy-efficient windows can reduce heating and cooling costs by 20 to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy-efficient double-paned windows are the ultimate solution, but there are other steps that will reduce heat loss.

Check windows for leaks by turning off all heating, cooling or ventilating systems, then carefully holding a lit candle four to six inches from the frame. If the flame wavers or flickers, you’ve got air leaks. Inspect exterior calking for cracks or gaps. If the leak persists after resealing, call a professional.

Cover the outside of the windows with heavy plastic or place shrink plastic on the inside. Read instructions that come with these materials for the best applications or talk with a hardware store expert.

Blinds or window coverings also can help insulate your house by preventing warm air from escaping at night. Open blinds during the day to let in light and capture heat.

• Insulation: Adequate insulation in the attic and crawl spaces can significantly reduce heat loss.

R values are a measure of the insulating capacity of the material. Energy codes for new homes call for R-38 insulation in the attic and R-30 in crawl spaces. In older homes, there may be attic insulation but none in the floors, say utility experts.

Insulating materials are relatively inexpensive to install but can make a big difference.

Also check any gaps around pipes in and out of the house — and ducts, fans and vents that go through walls, ceilings and floors from heated to unheated spaces. Seal where warranted.

• Chimneys: Fireplace owners should close chimney dampers once fire has been extinguished for 24 hours. Keep it closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. The same goes for wood stoves.

Chimneys should be inspected every year for creosote buildup, mortar and metal damage, and rain damage. A protective cap and screen for chimneys will prevent rain as well as birds and debris from getting in and disrupting air flow. Turn down the heat when using the fireplace.

• Temperature: Invest in a heat-regulating thermostat that automatically keeps your cool-weather indoor temperature at 68 degrees during the day and at a lower temperature at night or when you leave the house for more than four hours. Keep warm indoors by wearing layers of lightweight clothing.

If you have high ceilings and ceiling fans, reverse fan blade direction in winter to push warm air downward. When looking up, your fan should be turning clockwise.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.