3 important areas to focus on when winterizing your home

(BPT) - From the holidays to cold-weather fun like ice skating and skiing, winter promises its share of good times. Preparing your home for winter’s weather extremes can help ensure that you get the maximum enjoyment out of the season, while protecting your home’s vital systems and indoor comfort.

“Winter weather can take a toll on homes, so it’s important to take steps to protect systems like HVAC and plumbing before cold weather arrives,” says Emily Lewicki, brand manager with Luxaire(R). “Properly winterizing your home can help keep it more comfortable, prevent damage from cold and ice, improve efficiency and help reduce heating bills.”

Lewicki recommends vital winterization steps to get your home ready for the season:

1. Prepare your gas furnace.

During the summer, you probably didn’t think much about your furnace, but as winter approaches it’s important to make sure all elements of your home’s heating system are in top working order. If you haven’t already scheduled a professional service appointment for your furnace, now is the time. A professional technician is best equipped to ensure that furnaces are ready for winter.

Meanwhile, steps you can do yourself include:

* Remove any items that might have gotten stored near the furnace during the summer. Likewise, make sure air returns and vents are clean and not blocked by furniture or other items.

* Change the air filter. If you have trouble remembering when it’s time to replace filters, try setting reminders on your smartphone according to the furnace manufacturer’s recommended schedule.

* Update your thermostat’s programming to reflect your winter schedule. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one; a properly programmed thermostat can reduce energy bills up to $180 a year, according to the ENERGYSTAR.gov website.

If your current furnace is more than 10 years old and frequently needs repair, consider replacing it before winter gets into full swing. Extreme cold can make a worn furnace work harder and possibly fail altogether when you need it most. High-efficiency gas furnaces like a Luxaire(R) Acclimate(TM) gas furnace can help ensure that you’re never without heat during the winter, while also saving money on utility bills. These ENERGY STAR qualified furnaces are 15 to 25 percent more energy efficient than standard models, meaning they require less fuel to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

2. Protect windows and doors.

Up to a third of the heat lost from an average home escapes through windows and doors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Before winter arrives, take these steps to protect windows and doors from air leaks, drafts and heat loss:

* Check weather stripping on doors and caulking around windows. If any are damaged or worn, replace them.

* Install storm windows to further reduce drafts.

* Use temporary measures like draft dodgers along the base of doors and removable insulation kits over windows to help keep cold air out and warm air inside.

3. Manage pipes and water sources.

Extremely low temperatures can cause water pipes to burst, causing a loss of water and possibly extensive damage to your home if flooding occurs. Uninsulated pipes can also cause heat loss, which increases energy costs.

To minimize winter’s impact on pipes and other water-related systems, take these steps:

* Place insulation on exposed pipes that carry hot water, especially if they are warm or hot to the touch. The Department of Energy says insulating pipes can increase water temperature by 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower the setting on your water heater to conserve energy.

* Have outdoor water supplies like irrigation systems professionally drained and winterized to prevent freezing and costly damage.

* Flush the water heater to remove particles and sediment that collects inside the unit over time, hindering its efficiency. If you don’t have a gas-powered water heater, you can wrap it with insulation to improve its efficiency.

Finally, check on your home’s insulation in key areas like attics and basements. If your home needs more insulation, or the insulation you have is in bad shape, add more before winter arrives. The Insulation Institute offers an online guide to help you understand how much insulation you need.

“Winterizing is the best way to protect your home from cold-related damage, and ensure your home’s heating system operates at maximum efficiency throughout cold weather,” Lewicki says.

Sign up to receive top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every Thursday.