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Are you ready for winter?

By SUSAN STRAIGHT Special to The Washington Post.

Publication: The Day

Published October 05. 2012 4:00AM

Sweater weather is upon us, a reminder that winter lurks just around the corner. Will your house be ready to weather the chill?

Now is the time to begin assessing the investments you may need to make to ensure that you'll be warm this winter and experience lower energy costs over time.

"The average U.S. household will spend about $990 for winter heating costs this year," said Allyson Schmutter, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy. "There are many simple and energy-efficient fixes that help keep money in your pocketbook while keeping your house comfortable," she said.

Sealing air leaks and improving insulation can save as much as 20 percent on heating bills, for example.

Homeowners don't need to spend a ton of cash to make some very simple improvements, according to Mark Tyrol, owner of Massachusetts-based Battic Door Energy Conservation Products. The key is to find and seal off "overlooked openings," according to Tyrol. The company's two top-selling products cost less than $100: an attic stair cover ($99) and fireplace plugs ($54.95).

Here are some tips on how you can winterize your home:

• Seal ducts. Along with installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, homeowners can save as much as 20 percent by correctly sealing the air shafts between walls and floors that distribute air in those units, according to the

Environmental Protection Agency.

Sealing ducts, according to the EPA, can not only help homeowners heat their homes more evenly but also save them as much as $140 a year in energy costs.

Tanner said he sees a lot of clients with duct problems. "There's usually a room they can't keep hot or cold." In most cases, he said, "it's the air delivery system." For his clients, "the number one concern is comfort," said. "It's usually about air movement in the house. The trick is to get the air where it's supposed to go. In most cases, the duct system is inadequate as a result of original construction," he said.

• Replace air filters and clean your heating system, or have it professionally cleaned and inspected. Dirt and neglect are the main causes of system failure, according to the EPA. You don't want to be one of the many calling the heating service company the first night a cold snap strains your furnace or heat pump.

• Air seal your home. There are a number of companies that will provide energy assessments and identify leaks. Complete air sealing includes the entire outer shell of the structure, including the attic, the exterior walls and the foundation.

• Perform an online energy assessment. At Energy Star (energystar.gov/homeimprovement), you can enter totals of your previous year's worth of energy bills to compare your expenses with those of similar homeowners.

• Program the thermostat. Install or properly use a programmable thermostat. By adjusting settings when no one is home, you can save $100 a year, according to the EPA.

• Check doors, windows and gutters. If any weatherstripping is loose, repair or replace it. Swap out summer window screens for solid panes. Thoroughly clean gutters, check or install leaf guards, and make sure the drainage spouts are tightly attached to the bottom of the gutter to direct melting snow away from the house.

• Locate your snow shovel. Inspect it for wear to make sure it won't break in the first snowstorm of the season. Don't be the person racing to the hardware store only to find the shovels are sold out.

•Check batteries. Make sure your flashlights are working and that you have extra batteries on hand in case of a winter power outage.

• Get an energy evaluation. Find a program in your area to get your home evaluated.

Following some - or all- of these measure can help you reduce energy use and save money.

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