Get Ready for Winter Are you ready for the cold season? Take a look at these quick tips to expertly weather the winter. BY FRANCINE KIZNER
Being conscious during the winter months can save you big money.
Even if you donít get snow, you still have to deal with some winter issues. From flu and colds to increased heating costs to just wanting to cozy up by a fire; are you ready for the months ahead? We gathered some tips you may not have thought of to save energy and money and keep your family and pets safe this winter.
Conduct an energy audit to save on heating. Start by checking your homeís insulation in exterior and basement walls, ceilings, attics, floors and crawl spaces, says Chip Conlan, general manager of ServiceMark (www.servicemark.ws) and a 40-year veteran of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry. Conlan suggests inspecting for and sealing up any cracks or holes in walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches and electrical outletsóall major places for heat to leak out and cold to come in. Also, check your fireplace damper to make sure itís closed and inspect your heating system and appliances to make sure nothing is cracked, broken or corroded. If youíre still not sure what to look for, ask your utility company for a free energy audit.
Consider getting off the home-heating grid. If you have lots of wood at your disposal and enough space in your yard for a utility shed, you could invest in an outdoor wood-burning furnace and bring your utility bill down to practically nothing. You load the furnace with wood every few days and it heats water thatís then piped into the house, so not only can it replace your gas or electric heating unit, but it can supply hot water too. These furnaces are different from traditional wood-burning units because theyíre outside the house, donít have to be fed often, have low emissions and are energy efficient. One company that sells these furnaces is Central Boiler (www.centralboiler.com).
Build a greener fire. If you donít have good, dry wood readily available, donít go out and buy itóopt for a greener synthetic. One option to check out is Java-Log (www.java-log.com), a fire log made of recycled spent coffee grounds and all-natural vegetable wax. It produces 70 to 80 percent fewer emissions than wood and the company recycles more than 20 million pounds of coffee waste each year. Another option is Pine Mountain Logs ( www.pinemountainbrands.com), a brand of eco-friendly logs made from renewable resources that reduce emissions by up to 80 percent.
Prepare for power outages. There are more power outages in the winter than any other time of year, and flashlights can run out of batteries and candles can pose a fire risk. You do have some safe options, though. You can stock up on flame- and battery-free products like SnapLights (www.snaplight.com), a chemical light source in a plastic casing, or NightStar flashlights ( www.appliedinnotech.com), renewable energy flashlights that donít need batteries or bulbsóyou charge them by shaking.
Winterize your medicine cabinet. Throw out expired medicine and stock up on cold and flu remedies. And if you have children, donít forget to restock with child-friendly products. "The FDA questions the safety and benefit of giving suppressants, decongestants and antihistamines to children younger than 6 years of age," says Dr. Lauren Feder, author of Natural Baby and Childcare (www.drfeder.com).
Keep your pets safe. Beyond the cold weather, winter poses some specific threats to pets. Brent Hinton, CEO of PetFirst Healthcare, offers some tips to keep them healthy: Be careful to clean up any antifreeze spills and store antifreeze in a safe placeóitís extremely poisonous, but it smells good and tastes sweet to pets. Holiday plants, like poinsettias, lilies, holly and mistletoe, as well as the bases of live Christmas trees, are also poisonous for pets. And donít forget to keep ornament hooks, tinsel and ribbon out of reach so your pets donít ingest them, either.