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Edgewater, Maryland’s crisp fall is perfect for handling annual maintenance tasks and home improvement projects. The weather is cool and comfortable so you won’t mind spending time outside, and winter’s harsh chill hasn’t set in yet. Prepare your home for the season ahead with these smart projects that will increase your home’s energy efficiency and lower heating costs throughout the season.

Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance

In 2012, there were 21,200 residential fires stemming from fireplaces, chimneys, and chimney connectors causing $93.6 million in property loss. Creosote and soot buildup in your chimney creates a dangerous fire hazard. However, the Chimney Safety Institute of America asserts that a well-maintained chimney will never catch fire.

Prevent the dangers and expenses associated with a chimney fire by investing in an annual inspection. During this inspection, a professional will look inside your fireplace to assess its current needs. If it needs cleaning, the inspector can typically grab his supplies and do the job on the spot. Most fireplaces need a professional cleaning once a year. If you burn more than three cords of wood each year, you should have the chimney cleaned twice.

Smart upgrades to your chimney can further improve its efficiency. A stainless steel chimney cap keeps rain and snow out and prevents chilly downdrafts. Move from a traditional damper to one that doubles as a rain cap for a tighter closure that prevents heat loss. A clean and well-maintained fireplace will help warm your home naturally, replacing or supplementing your heating system so it won’t have to work as hard.

Insulate Your Water Pipes and Heater

Insulated pipes keep water 2 to 4 degrees warmer, saving you money on your energy bill. Insulating the first three feet of pipe from your water heater is a fairly easy DIY task. Measure the length of pipe(s) you want to insulate, and cut a pipe sleeve into the appropriate segments. Wrap the pipe sleeve around the pipe with the seam facing down. Secure with duct tape or cable ties every one to two feet to keep the sleeves in place.

Wrap jacket insulation around the hot water tank, as well. Just make sure to leave the air intake vent uncovered. Insulation is a fast and affordable way to keep your water hotter during the chilly fall and winter months. Finish this job now, and you’ll enjoy the savings not just in cold weather, but year-round.

Examine Your Water Heater

If you don’t pay much attention to your water heater, it might be draining your bank account unnecessarily. Check the temperature setting as part of your fall maintenance routine and make sure it’s on the normal setting, or about 120 degrees. The only exception to this rule is if your water heater or dishwasher specifies a higher setting in the owner’s manual. If you insulate your hot water pipes, you can often turn the temperature even lower while still enjoying all the benefits of piping hot water.

If you feel like you never have enough hot water, consider upgrading to a unit with a greater capacity or a better recovery rate. A new water heater with a higher Energy Factor rating will also offer improved efficiency so you can enjoy more hot water without increasing your monthly utility bills.

Seal and Insulate the Attic

Warm air rises, so an attic that’s leaky can let the heat you’re paying for slip away. Sealing and insulating your home will help you save an average of 15 percent on your heating and cooling costs. If your home experiences ice dams, dry air, and uneven heating in winter, you probably have a significant air leak in your attic. Sealing the attic is an extensive DIY job, suited only to experienced home repairmen. If this doesn’t describe you, hire a professional to locate and seal the leaks in your attic space.

Further increase your attic’s energy efficiency by insulating it. Laying fiberglass rolls is a potential DIY project. Lay the rolls perpendicular to any existing insulation between the rafters. Cut back the insulation to leave a gap of at least three inches around recessed light fixtures and soffit vents. Insert a piece of wire mesh to act as a stable barrier between the light or vent and your insulation. If you’re not comfortable laying insulation yourself, a contractor can assess your insulation needs and provide options for professional installation.

Upgrade Your Holiday Lights

The beginning of fall might seem a bit early to think about holiday lights, but the comfortable weather is actually ideal for putting these decorations up. Take a weekend to hang your holiday lights now, and all you have to do is flip the switch in a few months when it’s time to show off your hard work. You can save money this year by switching to LED lights, which use 75 percent less energy than incandescent lights.

Reset Your Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can help you shave about 5 percent off your heating costs for every degree you lower it within the 70- to 60-degree range. The recommended winter setting is 68 degrees or lower during the day and 55 degrees or lower at night. Maintain these settings for extended periods of time, such as overnight, and you might see drastic changes in your energy bill.

If these temperatures seem too chilly for your comfort, consider making other adjustments to stay cozy without cranking up the heat. Dress more warmly in the house when it’s cold outside. Switch your sheets out for soft flannel, and add an extra blanket to your bed. These seasonal changes will keep you warm and your energy bills low.

Change the Furnace Filters

A dirty furnace filter reduces airflow and increases your energy use. You should change your filter once a month to keep it in peak condition. Stock up on furnace filters in late summer or early fall when they’re typically cheaper. This seasonal item often comes with a higher price tag in the middle of winter. Changing your filter takes only seconds when you have a replacement on hand. Keeping a small stockpile will help make sure you keep up with this important maintenance task.

Schedule Annual Maintenance for Your Heater

Your heating system needs annual maintenance to stay in good condition. Schedule a tuneup once a year with your HVAC technician. At this visit, your technician will thoroughly clean and inspect the unit to make sure everything is in working order and ready for the year ahead. Make your appointment in early fall before the winter rush hits. Regular maintenance will extend the life of your heating system and minimize your repair costs throughout the year.

Reconsider Your Second Refrigerator

If you have a second refrigerator in your garage that you use for chilled drinks, you might want to reconsider its usefulness in winter. As the temperatures drop, that added appliance becomes surprisingly superfluous. While your garage won’t maintain the consistent temperatures you need to keep food safe, you might find that it’s adequate for cans of soda. Carefully examine why you’re using that added refrigerator. If it’s nothing more than canned beverages, consider unplugging it for the season and shaving your energy bill as a holiday gift to yourself.

Seal Doors, Windows, and Outlets

Don’t let the winter wind blow in through your doors and windows. Fall is an ideal time to revisit these areas of the home when it’s cool enough to leave them open while you work, but not so cold that it’s uncomfortable. Look for cracks around window and door frames and caulk these where they don’t have contact with moving parts. Insert weather stripping along the bottom of doors and windows for added protection from the cold. Remove your outlet covers, and place gaskets behind them for additional energy savings.

If you’re looking for a professional hand to help you improve your Baltimore area home’s energy efficiency and prepare for winter, Griffith Energy Services can help. Contact us at (888) 474-3391 to schedule your annual maintenance visit or find out more about energy-efficient heating upgrades that can save you money this winter.

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