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Q: What advice may BBB offer to consumers and businesses as we prepare for the winter months?

A: With the first frost warnings of the year in Tennessee, this is a great time to button up your home for winter. According to The Old Farmers' Almanac, this winter will be brisk and wet, with the coldest periods in mid-December through most of February. Preparing your home now could save you money and give you peace of mind.

Better Business Bureau offers tips to keep your heat in doors and save money in your wallet during the winter months:

* Have your HVAC thoroughly inspected. It's recommended to have it inspected annually by a professional.

* Check ductwork to be sure heat isn't escaping. Look for possible leaks and insulate exposed ductwork and pipes.

* After the leaves have fallen, clean out clogged gutters and downspouts. Clogs could cause rain water to back up and possibly freeze, which could cause major gutter damage.

* Inspect your chimney. Make sure there's nothing clogging it like animals, debris and leaves. Check flashing around the outside of your chimney stack to make sure it is leak free.

* Check your roof for any loose or damaged shingles.

* Remove tree branches hanging close to your house, which could weigh down with snow or ice and fall on your home.

* Replace batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Test detectors and replace if they are more than 10 years old.

* Check around doors and windows, caulk and replace weather stripping if necessary. This is a common place for cold air to make its way in.

* In a few weeks, replace window and door screens with storm windows and doors.

* When heat air is in use, make sure ceiling fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down.

* Check pipes and outdoor faucets before the first freeze. Wrap pipes in places like basements, crawl spaces and garages where it's unheated, to eliminate pipes bursting.

* Remove garden hoses from faucets. Water remaining in hoses could freeze and crack or damage hoses. Also, remove gasoline from your lawnmower or other garden tools.

* Gather items for an emergency kit, such as a flashlight, candles, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food and a battery-powered radio.

* Purchase a 50 pound bag of sand and salt melt for emergency use in snow and ice conditions.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga. Visit bbb.org for further consumer and business tips.

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