Dianne Evans of Martinez and her family are ready for winter.
First, they bought truckloads of firewood and stacked it under the deck to keep it dry.
Then they called Top Hat Chimney Sweep, an Augusta company that cleans and inspects fireplaces and chimneys.
"We have a friend several years ago that had a chimney fire, so now we do it annually," Mrs. Evans said.
And upon inspection of her own chimney, they found evidence of a chimney fire of their own at some point.
Joe Fitzgerald, owner of Top Hat, said the off-season is when the problems occur.
"Birds or squirrels will get inside, build a nest and cause an obstruction. Then when you build a fire, that causes buildup real quick."
The result is a chimney fire.
Top Hat inspects from the top of the chimney down to the hearth, looking for damage from animals or water. "We make sure everything is where it is supposed to be, no loose brick or mortar."
Preparing for winter doesn't stop at the fireplace. There are many ways to reduce energy waste and increase efficiency during the cold months.
One of the easiest ways to prepare your home for winter is to caulk or weatherstrip doors and windows, said Betty English, a University of Georgia Extension Service agent for Richmond and Columbia counties.
"The time and money invested in weatherstripping and caulking windows and doors can pay off faster than almost any other home improvement you can make, even when your home is already well insulated," she said.
Caulking and weatherstripping should be applied wherever two different materials or parts of the house meet, including around door frames, window frames, sills and joints, at corners where siding and roof meet, at eaves and moldings, around water pipes and drains, where the furnace flue goes through the attic and around the attic entry.
Caulking should not be used on moveable parts, Mrs. English said.
"Caulking compounds are designed to bond, expand and contract with different surfaces. Therefore, they should be selected for the job they are to perform."
Weatherstripping should be applied around loose-fitting windows and casings, loose-fitting entrance doors and the bottom of garage doors.
Energy investments should be made in the following order: caulking, weatherstripping and ceiling insulation. The addition of storm windows should be considered only after the other recommendations are met.
Storm doors and windows help maintain a more even temperature and reduce drafts.
"Basically, anything that you do that reduces air flow will help with energy efficiency," said John Sell, a spokesman for Georgia Power Co.
Mr. Sell also recommends insulating your electric water heater. There are blankets on the market that should fit easily around most water heaters.
"There is a lot of energy wasted from the hot water heater. If you insulate it, it keeps warm air from escaping," he said. "The thicker insulation you use, the more energy you will save."
Mr. Sell also suggested keeping the heater thermostat set on 68 degrees. "If you just monitor your thermostat, anything else above and beyond that will help."
Georgia Power also recommends replacing air filters each month. Clean air filters make it easier for the heating or cooling system to work; they keep dust and dirt off diffusers and coils and out of fans and motors.
Don Harrison, public relations manager with the Home Depot, said plumbing is another area to consider when the temperatures begin to drop.
"Pipes freezing is probably the most common problem during the winter," he said. Foam tubing can help insulate pipes and prevent freezing. "It's just a matter of opening it up and wrapping it around the pipe."
"Running water will preclude a freeze, especially down here in the South, but some people don't want to waste the water or listen to the dripping."
The Home Depot also suggests adding a carbon monoxide detector to the home.
"Everybody turns the heat on and closes all the windows. The house is pretty well sealed up, which makes it the appropriate time to install carbon monoxide detectors," Mr. Harrison said.
Some additional tips from Georgia Power, to help energy efficiency through the winter:
Reverse ceiling fans; this will push hot air from the ceiling to all areas of the room.
Close garage doors to keep the cold air out.
Close louvers and vents in the attic and foundation walls.
Be sure heating outlets and return-air registers are not blocked by furniture, draperies or doors.
Leave draperies open on sunny days to let in the sun's heat. Close them at night and on the shaded side of the house.
Reach Lisa Lohr at (706) 823-3351.