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Prepare your home as Old Man Winter makes an appearance

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Now that the air has turned cooler and the leaves have fallen off the trees, it's time to think about winterizing your home to prepare for the colder months ahead.

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Snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures can damage a home's exterior, leading to costly repairs and adding hundreds of dollars to winter utility bills. Here are some winter preparation tips that you can implement to help save on energy and protect your home from costly damages, keeping it in tip-top shape through winter.

Clean out your electric and wood burning fireplaces

Having either an electric or wood burning fireplace is a nice, comforting luxury in the cold months of winter, but they can be dangerous if you do not properly clean and inspect them every year. Make sure to check your fire extinguishers and replace them if they are older than 10 years.

With electric fireplaces, check the electrical components, such as wires and plugs, as well as the log, lines and valves to ensure they are in good working order. Dust the interior and exterior to remove debris and clean the glass inside and out.

Inspect the vents with a flashlight, making sure there is nothing blocking them. Lastly, test your fireplace to make sure that it is working properly.

For wood burning fireplaces, check the interior and exterior of your chimney for any cracks that should be repaired. Check the inside of the chimney with a mirror to make sure it is not blocked by leaves, nests or critters. Use a chimney sweep to clean the soot from the chimney, or hire a professional to do it if you would like. Remove all of the layers of ash in the stove with a vacuum or shovel disposing of it. Once you are sure everything is cleaned and free of obstructions, start your fire and be vigilant with how it is burning for the first few days to avoid any serious problems.

Exterior doors and windows

You should do a walk-a-round the outside of your home to inspect your windows and doors for cracking and exposed entry points and seal them. The use of weather-stripping and caulk around doors and windows will prevent cold air from entering the home, saving on your energy bills. You can also use shrink wrap around your windows if you do not plan on opening them for the winter. If you have older doors and windows, you can install storm doors and windows, which can increase your home's energy efficiency by 40 percent.

Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

You should have a smoke detector in every room in your home. You should also have carbon monoxide detectors in your home near your furnace and water heater, as well as the areas where the carbon monoxide would travel first, such as up your stairs. Take the time to check each detector and put new batteries in them. Experts recommend that you change them twice a year.

Winter water disasters

The thought of having water pouring into your home should be reason enough to know where the emergency shut off is in your home. Make sure to inspect your exposed plumbing pipes and insulate them with foam wraps. If you end up having a problem with freezing pipes, turn on cold water at the faucet closest to the frozen pipe to relieve the pressure from the expanding ice, which can keep the pipe from bursting until you call the professionals for service. Clean out your gutters so that when snow melts they are not overflowing, which could send the water rushing into your basement.

Reverse your ceiling fans

Your ceiling fans are there to help save on your energy bills. If you have a switch on your fan to change the direction of the blades, make sure they are going in a clockwise direction in the winter. This forces the warm air down to recirculate throughout your home.

Andy Lindus is the owner of Lindus Construction in Minneapolis. He writes the blog Lindus Construction at lindusconstruction.areavoices.com.

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