During the winter, it's customary to open gifts and cards. But heating bills we could go without.
While there's no escaping the bills, whether you live in a fairly balmy region or are knee-deep in ice and sleet, there are ways to get prepped for winter, protect your home and save some cash.
These five home-winterizing tips from TLC and HowStuffWorks will get you started — and, with hope, keep Jack Frost at bay.
Seal the Leaks: Caulking and Weather Stripping
Using caulking and weather stripping in your home can help to reduce air leaks, which means more warm air stays inside when it's cold outside. While both products seal air leaks, they're used in different ways.
Caulk is used when you want a flexible seal around cracks or joints (less than 1/4-inch wide), such as around windows and door frames, plumbing fixtures and pipes, and even ceiling fixtures. Weather stripping should be used around movable joints, including windows and doors.
Check for leaks around pipes, electrical outlets and vents. Look closely under sinks, around vents and in closets. Find a gap? Plug it up and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates you'll reduce your heating and cooling costs by up to 30 percent.
Service the Furnace
First things first: Turn your furnace on early in the season, before you need it, to be sure it works. It will be much easier to schedule any needed service before the temperatures dip and you're left waiting for an appointment.
Even if your furnace is in fine working order, or seems to be, it should be serviced annually. If you haven't had it inspected this year, set up an appointment for a furnace cleaning and tune-up.
Also remember to replace your furnace's air filter about every three months (at the start of each new season), but check them monthly — dirty filters mean your furnace has to work harder.
Get Your Ducts in Order
While the EPA doesn't necessarily recommend cleaning your air ducts unless there is visible mold, excessive dust and debris or an infestation of insects or vermin, the U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR suggest checking the leakage rate of your ducts.
Is more than 20 percent of the moving air leaking out of your system? Then it's time to have a professional seal your ducts. According to the Department of Energy, you can improve the efficiency of your HVAC system by about 20 percent by sealing and insulating the ducts. And while you're getting your ducts in order, have them wrapped in insulation for added efficiency.
It's not uncommon for you to reach for a sweater when the temperatures drop, so why wouldn't you offer the same extra warmth to your house? Adding insulation to outer walls, attics, basements and crawlspaces help to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer — and in turn lower energy costs.
Insulation types include fiberglass, cellulose, rigid foam board and spray foam. Depending on where you live and your needs, there's an insulation product suited for you. Get the biggest bang for your buck by adding insulation to your attic — most attics need about 12 to 15 inches of insulation for the best efficiency.
It only takes a few minutes to avoid a surprise watery mess this winter. Protect pipes from freezing and bursting by doing two important things: Drain and store your hoses and turn off your outdoor faucets.
Turn off the water at the shut-off valve (all your outdoor faucets will have a shut-off valve, usually found indoors) and turn each outdoor faucet on to let it drain. Consider replacing outdoor faucets with freeze-proof versions — or for something less complicated, install insulated faucet covers over outdoor faucets.
For additional protection, wrap your pipes with foam pipe insulation or foam tape to help prevent freezing. Remember, too, that it's not only outdoor faucets that are vulnerable — pipes that run through attics, crawl spaces and exterior walls all have the potential to burst in subfreezing weather.