Q: I'm looking to save some money by trying to be energy efficient at home. Does the BBB have any tips?
A: With a tough economy looming like the Grinch over this year's holiday season, many people are looking for ways to save money through energy efficiency. Better Business Bureau is offering a checklist for homeowners to safely prepare their homes for the cold winter months, and perhaps save a few dollars in the process.
According to the Energy Information Administration, home heating costs this winter are expected to rise by almost 14 percent for homeowners who rely on natural gas. Luckily, homeowners can fend off some of the rising energy costs by winterizing their home before the harshest weather takes hold.
Taking the time to winterize your home can give you the peace of mind that you will not only save money, but be energy efficient as well.
The following is a BBB home winterizing checklist for consumers to consult when preparing for the cold months ahead:
* Heating systems. Heating systems older than 10-15 years might be due for a replacement. For newer systems, BBB recommends making sure the heating system filter is clean, the thermostat is working properly and the pilot light is functioning. Homeowners can also hire an inspector to do the job and make sure the system is in safe working order.
* Programmable thermostats. Consumers may want to consider getting a programmable thermostat to automatically monitor and adjust heating and cooling habits for when you are home, away or sleeping. Many home improvement stores sell programmable thermostats and Chattanooga Gas is offering their customers one for free, but double check their website, www.chattanoogagas.com, for terms and conditions to see if you qualify.
* Have an In-Home Energy Evaluation. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has teamed up with local electric companies in Tennessee and surrounding states to offer an in-home energy evaluation. A TVA-certified evaluator will take a look at your home and point out where you can be more energy efficient. Some upgrades can also qualify for rebates. For more information, or to schedule an evaluation, contact your local power company or visit www.energyright.com.
* Chimney. Before lighting up the fireplace, homeowners should have the chimney inspected for animals, debris and leaves that may have fallen in. BBB also recommends installing a screen over the chimney opening.
* Gutters and ridge vents. Gutters should be cleaned to prevent any clogs that would cause rainwater to back up and freeze, making the gutters expand and crack. The ridge vents need to be cleaned as well in order to allow the house to "breath" correctly. Otherwise, air will stagnate and create an unhealthy environment.
* Smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors. BBB recommends testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and installing fresh batteries. Homeowners should consider replacing smoke alarms older than 10 years.
* Caulking and Weather Stripping. To prevent leaks, homeowners should inspect the caulking around windows and doors and check for cracking and peeling. In addition, BBB recommends ensuring that doors and windows shut tightly and no cold air is coming in due to worn weather stripping.
* Seasonal equipment. Homeowners will not need their spring and summer equipment for a few months, so BBB recommends draining the water from garden hoses and air conditioner pipes, and the gasoline from the lawnmower and other garden tools. It is also time to pull out the snow shovels and a supply of ice salt in case needed.
* Emergency kit. When a winter storm strikes, an emergency kit should have all essential materials in one handy place. An emergency kit should include flashlights, candles and matches, a first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food and a battery-powered radio. BBB recommends creating the same emergency kit for the car as well, including a couple blankets.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.