According to the Energy Information Administration, home heating costs this winter are expected to rise by 23 percent for homeowners who rely on heating oil, 18 percent for homes relying on natural gas and 10 percent to 11 percent for homes heated by propane or electricity.
Luckily, homeowners can fend off some of the rising energy costs by winterizing their home before the harshest weather takes hold.
As if people needed some more bad news about high prices, high heating costs are the next hurdle for cash-strapped consumers. Winterizing a home makes good economic sense, because a small up-front investment can pay dividends for months by increasing the energy efficiency of a house and reducing overall heating costs.
Here is a BBB home winterizing checklist:
FURNACE. Furnaces older than 15 years might be due for a replacement. For newer furnaces, BBB recommends making sure the furnace filter is clean, the thermostat is working properly and the pilot light is functioning. Homeowners can hire an inspector to do the job and make sure the furnace is in safe working order.
HEATING DUCTS. Ducts should be cleaned once every two years. Homeowners should consider adding insulation to any exposed ductwork. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it travels through unheated spaces.
CHIMNEY. Before lighting up, homeowners planning on using their fireplace in winter should have the chimney inspected for animals, debris and leaves that might have fallen in. The BBB also recommends installing a screen over the chimney opening.
GUTTERS AND RIDGE VENTS. Gutters should be cleaned to prevent any clogs that would cause rainwater to back up and freeze, making the gutters expand and crack. The ridge vents need to be cleaned, too, in order to allow the house to "breathe" correctly. Otherwise, air will stagnate and create an unhealthy environment.
SMOKE ALARM AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS. The BBB recommends testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and installing fresh batteries. Homeowners should consider replacing smoke alarms older than 10 years.
CAULKING AND WEATHER STRIPPING. The average American home has air leaks that amount to a 9-square-foot hole in the wall, according to the EarthWorks Group. To prevent leaks, homeowners should inspect the caulking around windows and doors and check for cracking and peeling. In addition, the BBB recommends ensuring that doors and windows shut tightly and no cold air is coming in because of worn weather stripping.
SEASONAL EQUIPMENT. Homeowners won't need their spring and summer equipment for a few months, so the BBB recommends draining the water from garden hoses and air conditioner pipes and the gasoline from the lawnmower and other garden tools..
EMERGENCY KIT. When a winter storm strikes, an emergency kit should have all essential materials in one handy place. An emergency kit should include flashlights, candles and matches, a first aid kit, bottled water, nonperishable food and a battery-powered radio. The BBB recommends creating the same emergency kit for the car, including a couple of blankets.
For more advice you can trust on home maintenance and saving money this winter, visit the BBB online at www.bbb.org.
Kelvin Collins is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc., which serves 41 counties.