At Home, Home & Garden

Winter is on the way

Make sure your beautiful fireplace isn’t undercutting your energy-saving efforts when it’s not in use. photo: Spiderstock

San franciscans love the charaacter of their old homes: high ceilings, hardwood floors, and large picture windows. Unfortunately older flats and homes that haven’t been updated can also translate into drafty, cold apartments in the winter months. Winterizing the inside of your home can save both money and energy.
In the winter, a large portion of household energy budgets is consumed by heating costs. That’s why it’s important to check your home to make sure your heating dollars are not being wasted.  Many of these tasks are do-it-yourselfers that you should have no problem undertaking, but if you aren’t sure about anything, contact a qualified tradesperson to assist you.


Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn to make sure it is in good working order. Changing your filters at least every 90 days can help save money and energy. Homes with pets or smokers might require more frequent changes. Regularly replacing indoor air filters can also reduce allergy reaction-causing particles that might lead to chronic health problems. A dirty filter can slow down air flow and make the system work harder. This causes unnecessary strain on the equipment, potentially shortening the life of the unit.

Check heating ducts for leaks. Think of the ductwork as huge hoses, bringing hot air instead of water into a building. Mostly out-of-sight, ducts can leak for years without anyone knowing. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Old duct tape will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, wasting heated air into an attic or under the house. (Metal-reinforced or foil-backed tape should be used instead of duct tape.) Roughly 10 percent of a heating bill can be saved by preventing leaky ducts.


These are probably the least expensive, simplest, and most effective ways to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of their heat.

Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weatherstripping and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure that doors seal properly. If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with more efficient ones. New windows also provide other benefits, though, such as improved appearance and comfort. Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air to sneak in. Install pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plates and effectively prevent leaks.


Window insulation kits allow you to easily install a clear film to seal out air drafts. Just use a hair dryer to heat the film to shrink it to fit your window.


The fireplace damper needs to be open if a fire is burning, of course, but if it’s open when you’re not using the fireplace, the chimney is functioning as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft.
When wood is burned in a fireplace, tar and creosote are formed. Creosote is unburned wood particles and condensed flue gases. With each fire, these highly flammable substances build up on the inside of the chimney and must be removed to prevent a fire. A Creosote Sweeping Log contains a mixture of minerals that is dispersed during burning to coat and adhere to the creosote. The creosote then becomes brittle and breaks away over the next two weeks. The log is an alternative to mechanical cleaning and is one of the fastest, easiest, and most cost-efficient ways to clean your chimney.


With the onset of winter and cold weather, a programmable thermostat, capable of dividing the days into multiple time zones, allows you to adjust the temperature level accordingly. For example, at night you can turn it down, program it to have the house warmed when you wake up, and the temperature set during the day to an appropriate level depending on the weather and the season. These thermostats are easy to install and save energy and money on your electric bill.


Clocks are changed one hour back this year on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 a.m. Though this means we gain a precious hour of sleep, it also means that it gets darker much earlier. Well-lighted entryways help prevent accidents, as well as discourage would-be burglars.

An energy-efficient way to make sure entryways are lit when arriving home during dark hours is to install an automatic light sensor that will turn on at dusk and off at dawn. You’ll find many weather-resistant options these days that are also easy to install.

Motion-activated lighting, which turns on when movement is sensed, is another alternative that can welcome guests, secure your home, and save energy. Both decorative and floodlight styles are available, and many models feature a sensitivity control to adjust the range of distance for sensing motion and to select the length of time light stays on after motion has been detected.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].