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Prepare your home for winter: How to enjoy your home for the holidays

Insulating your attic is a cost-effective way to reduce winter’s toll on your heating bills. photo: jason dale

During the holidays, we get together with family and friends. We often decorate our homes to add extra cheer. However, there are some important steps to take to winterize your house and to safely put holiday decorations in place. Below are just a few that I recommend.

Before that cold winter wind begins to blow, look at a few things around your home. Check the weatherstripping on all of your exterior doors; poor or nonexistent weatherstripping is one way to lose heat and to get cold drafts into your cozy home. There is no need to suffer those drafts; weatherstripping is easy to replace. Also, have your heater checked. Usually, PG&E will come out and perform a free inspection. Cracks could lead to dangerous carbon dioxide leaks, so be sure it is working properly and efficiently. And don’t forget to change your heater filter.

Take a good look at your windows, too. Those windows in beautiful older homes often may not close properly, allowing in drafts. Replacing windows can be expensive, but it will improve your home and offer better insulation so you will save money in the long run.

Electric wall plugs and switches can also allow cold air in. There are simple-to-install precut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate to effectively prevent leaks. Don’t forget to check your fireplace damper — heat will rise up through it even without a fire in the fireplace. Keep it closed, but remember to open it before you enjoy a cozy fire.

To be efficient, examine your heater duct pipes for leaks. They can leak at the seams, or become torn, crushed, and flattened. This causes heat to spill into your attic or under the house, which is not only expensive, but also wasteful. According to field research performed by the California Energy Commission, you can save roughly 10 percent of your heating bill by preventing leaky ducts.

There are many other projects like insulating your attic and basement and setting your thermostat lower or to turn off during certain times, which can help with the winter weather.

A few holiday preparations: If you decorate for the holidays, be sure to unplug (not just turn off) your lighted decorations when you are not enjoying them (and use GFCI — ground fault circuit interrupter — plugs). Carefully inspect your light strings before you put them up. Many fires are started every year by holiday decorations. Those pretty poinsettias can be poisonous for pets, so be sure they can’t get to them. Use flame retardant decorations whenever possible. Don’t put candles on the tree or near combustibles. Keep your pets and children away from the decorations to avoid injury. Only use lights outdoors that are certified to be used outdoors. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.

We all do a lot of cooking during the holidays. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States. Be sure to test your smoke alarms. I like to use New Year’s Day as the time to change those batteries. It is usually a slow day and an easy one to remember. Even better, replace them with the new combo carbon dioxide/smoke alarm monitors with the 10-year battery.

There are many more tips, but these are a few highlights. If you would like a copy of the Holiday Home Safety Tips and Getting Ready for Winter guide, please let me know and I will be happy to provide it to you.

Happy Holidays!

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Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg has been a real estate agent for over 30 years and joined Hill & Co. in 1983, where she has consistently been among the top 10 salespeople. She can be reached at www.realtyinsanfrancisco.com.

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