You can already feel the chill in the air, but there’s plenty of time for some energy-savvy home maintenance before winter does its worst. Taking a weekend to prepare your home inside and out for heating season can make the winter more comfortable, affordable and ecologically friendly. Here are some tips to help you get your household winterization checklist going:

Assess your furnace. Every homeowner wants to get the longest possible life out of a furnace, but because it won’t last forever, it’s better to replace it proactively than wait for it to break down mid-winter. Furnaces more than 10 years old can also drag down household energy efficiency dramatically, so replacement could make a big difference in your monthly utility bills.

Seal your leaks. No matter how powerful or efficient your furnace is, your home will still be uncomfortable and your bills will be too high if you’re losing heat to air leaks. Use an air leak detector, available at most hardware stores, to pinpoint drafty doors, windows and other cracks that are causing you to lose precious heat.

Protect your air conditioner. Just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean you can ignore it -- after the A/C has been shut off for the season, clean the condenser thoroughly with a hose, allow it to dry and cover it with a tarp or made-to-fit cover to protect it from debris and moisture.

Have your chimney inspected and cleaned. Even if you don’t use a fireplace as part of your home heating strategy, you should have your chimney checked out and cleaned up annually, as this is an easy place for drafts to develop. And if you do plan on building a fire, a careful inspection is essential to doing it safely.

Trim the trees. If you live in an area prone to ice and winter storms, it’s important to monitor the growth of your trees and take action when limbs hang precariously over power lines. Added weight from accumulated ice can bring these branches down and take the power lines with them, creating a hazardous situation and initiating a power outage.

Check your attic insulation. You might not know it, but the insulation in your attic is one of the single most important lines of defense against thermal loss in the winter. Insulation can degrade and lose volume over the years, so if you can see exposed rafters in your attic, it’s time to replace it with a fresh layer.

Shut down the sprinkler system. Buried sprinkler lines must be completely drained to prevent freezing and subsequent damage. If you’re unsure about all the necessary winterization steps for your sprinkler system, contact a qualified plumber.

Lastly, get your furnace tuned up! Even if you’ve already started using your furnace, it’s best to get this annual maintenance completed before winter begins. It’s the best way to avoid breakdowns, improve performance and maximize energy efficiency. If you haven’t done this yet, call your local HVAC experts without delay!

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