Home help can keep out season's chill

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2004

With winter fast approaching, it's time for home owners who want to save money on energy bills and avoid expensive repairs down the road to think about winterizing their home.

Steve Wisdom of Wisdom and Associates, a Kenai firm that rates homes on the Kenai Peninsula for energy efficiency, said there were a few things home owners should do in the fall to prepare for winter.

He suggested starting with windows and doors, which can lose heat due to leaky weather stripping and caulking.

To prevent unnecessary loss of heat, check the weather stripping around doors and windows to make sure there is a tight seal and replace as necessary. Weather stripping is often made of felt, rubber or foam. Over time, depending on what it's made of and how it's attached, stripping can crack, get broken down so it no longer seals properly or simply come off in places.

The exterior frame of doors and windows is another place where heat commonly escapes. Door and window frames should be sealed with caulking. Check the seal around the frames for holes and reseal with caulk intended for exterior use.

Many homes on the peninsula aren't as energy efficient as they could be due to lack of insulation, according to Wisdom.

"There are a lot of houses out there that have less (insulation) than we think they need," he said.

Home owners whose attics aren't insulated with at least 12 inches of fiberglass batting should consider adding blown insulation to reach an R-38 rating, Wisdom said.

Blown insulation commonly comes in two forms: cellulose, which is recycled newspaper treated with fire retardant, or loose fiberglass. Both can be used alone or in combination with fiberglass batting.

The crawl space under a house is another important area to insulate that often gets overlooked. Foundation walls should be insulated to an R-10 or -11 rating to keep heat from escaping, and to create a "utility space" where water pipes running under the floors won't freeze, Wisdom said.

To efficiently keep out the peninsula's severe winters, it's necessary to insulate a house from the ground up.

"Insulating foundation walls is equally as important as the attic, in this region." Wisdom said.

Having your home's heating system serviced is a winterization chore not to be overlooked. Getting your furnace or boiler checked will not only keep the system working efficiently and save money, it could save lives.

A cracked heat exchanger in a forced air furnace or a back draft from a boiler system that's not working properly can leak carbon monoxide into the home instead of venting it, Wisdom said. Carbon monoxide is extremely poisonous and the results can be deadly.

"The service of the furnace or the boiler is actually a life-safety issue. We've all heard of the tragedies in Anchorage and elsewhere over the last couple years," Wisdom said.

Furnace and boiler maintenance should be done at least once a year, according to Dennis Studebaker, service manager at Redoubt Plumbing and Heating. Annual service includes cleaning or replacing filters, checking motors and replacing any parts that aren't working.

"In general, (we) just check the system over and make sure everything's functioning," Studebaker said.

The cost of an annual heating check up can vary, depending on the condition of the system.

"In most cases, you're probably looking at between $125-150, unless you've got some serious problems," Studebaker said.

Making sure your home is properly insulated and your heating system is running clean and efficiently can save a significant amount on your energy bill, according to Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for Homer Electric Association.

"You can easily save 10 percent, but if you've got a home that really needs (winterization), you can save much more," he said.

In addition to winterizing the home, to save money Gallagher recommended keeping the temperature in the house low, but not uncomfortable.

"Set your thermostat as low as comfortable. For each family it's different but that will result in some energy savings," he said.

To encourage customers to make their homes more energy efficient, loans of up to $2,000 are available through HEA to purchase weatherization materials, Gallagher said.

Loans are available with six to 24 month terms and materials are required to be purchased from local vendors, he said.

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