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Q. Does BBB have suggestions and tips on preparing my home for the winter months?

A. Yes, we have enjoyed a prolonged mild fall; cold weather is near. Each winter, consumers are looking for ways to save money on home heating and protect their homes during colder months. While the U.S. Department of Energy predicts we are likely to see lower heating bills this winter due to lower energy prices. Long-term forecasts predict warmer weather across the country, but it is still important to take preventive winterizing steps. Homeowners can minimize energy and repair costs by winterizing their homes before the harsh weather arrives.

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Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Better Business Bureau suggests ways for homeowners to safely winterize their homes and save money in the process. BBB offers the following tips for winterizing homes:

* Caulking and weather stripping. To prevent air leaks, homeowners should inspect the caulking around windows and doors to check for cracking and peeling. In addition, ensure that doors and windows are shut tightly and cold air is not coming in due to worn weather stripping.

* Ceiling fans. By reversing the direction of your ceiling fan so the blades turn clockwise at a low speed, you push warm air up and force it around the room.

* Heating ducts. Ducts should be inspected and cleaned periodically. Homeowners also should consider adding insulation to any exposed ductwork to prevent air heat loss.

* Air filters. Many of us fail to replace our air filters as often as we should. Remember, clean filters are a great way to reduce indoor air pollution. Homes have less natural ventilation during winter months.

* Emergency kit. When a winter storm strikes, an emergency kit should have all essential materials in one convenient place. An emergency kit should include flashlights, candles and matches, a first-aid kit, bottled water, nonperishable food and a battery-powered radio. Create the same emergency kit for the car as well, including a couple of blankets.

* Smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and install fresh batteries. Homeowners should consider replacing smoke alarms older than 10 years.

* 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 help prevent stagnate air.

* Fireplace. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 27,000 house fires originate in poorly maintained chimneys or fireplaces each year. In turn, consulting a professional chimney sweep is something every homeowner should consider. Not only will they clean the inside of the chimney which likely has soot, creosote, and debris build up, they will also take note of and repair structural damage.

* Windows. If windows are not dual pane; window screens should be taken down and replaced with storm windows. Storm windows provide an extra layer of protection and keep the house warmer. Investing in a window insulator kit is an inexpensive option to keep out drafts.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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