Posted November 23, 2011

Don’t get ‘frosted’ over heating your home this winter

The calendar year is quickly winding down, the leaves have turned and a chill is in the air.  Now is the time to turn your attention to getting your home prepared to keep you warm this winter, says Temple University mechanical engineering professor Steven M. Ridenour.

An expert in heating, ventilating and air conditioning, Ridenour suggests having the furnace cleaned and checked; making sure windows close tightly; inspecting and replacing old weather stripping around all windows and doors; and, since warm air rises, checking your home’s upper floors for openings around attic doors and windows, ventilation fans, and ceiling light fixtures.

“Having your furnace serviced is one of the first things you want to have done,” he says.  “It’s worth the expense and will have your heating system running at maximum efficiency.

Ridenour also suggests checking the flue or chimney exhaust for clogs, as well as changing filters on warm air heating systems.

As for a heating system with radiators, he says to make sure that they are open to air and kept clean.  “They also work much better if you don’t put anything on top of them,” says Ridenour.  “This allows the heat to get out to a wider area.”

"Having your furnace serviced is one of the first things you want to have done. It's worth the expense and will have your heating system running at maximum efficiency."
-- mechanical engineering professor Steven M. Ridenour

The second most important step in preparing your home to be warm this winter is stopping infiltration of outside air (cold air coming in through cracks).

“Now's the time to check if the storm windows are closed tightly and fastened securely,” he says. 

Ridenour says to carefully inspect the weather stripping around the windows for a tight fit to keep cold air from infiltrating the house.  If it’s worn, he suggests considering purchasing a weather stripping kit from the hardware store.

“An ordinary roll of duct tape will also work well in helping to seal around the windows and is very economical,” he says.

In addition to the windows, Ridenour says to check the weather stripping around doors, especially at the bottom of storm doors.  “Even if you’ve replaced it last year, check it again.  It can wear out very easily through repeatedly opening and closing the door.”

If the weather stripping at the bottom of the door is worn, but not enough to warrant replacing, Ridenour says to just do what your grandmother did, place a rug or towel along the bottom of the door.

Since warm air rises, Ridenour suggests making sure there are no openings around attic doors and stairs, upper level vent fans, and light fixtures.  “Keeping the doors closed to upper level rooms that are not in use will also help keep more warm air in the living spaces that are more in use,” he says.

Ridenour also suggests using alternative heat sources and rolling back thermostats at night to save on heating bills.

“People with south-facing, double-paned windows can use them to generate solar heat,” says Ridenour.  “You want to keep them clean and open the shades to the sun during the day, while keeping them closed at night.”

Each square foot of south-facing double window pane used in this manner will save about one gallon of home heating oil over the course of the winter, he says.

Even more effective at helping save on the heating bill is rolling back the thermostat at night.  “A five-degree setback each night for at least six hours will save about five percent on the heating bill over the winter season,” Ridenour estimates.

Ridenour urges caution to people who would use kerosene heaters or fireplaces for heat.

“Kerosene heaters are very efficient because all the heat goes directly into the surrounding space, but so too does dangerous carbon dioxide from burning the kerosene in the heater,” he says.  “On the other hand, burning fireplaces pull air out of the surrounding space and that causes more infiltration of cold air.

“So both need to be used with some ventilation, which means cracking open a nearby window that you’ve been trying to keep sealed,” says Ridenour. “That allows outside air for the burning process and actually improves the efficiency of fireplaces.”

Finally, Ridenour suggests only using an electric heater for a small space, and as needed.  “While it’s true that they give more efficient heat, electricity costs more than oil or gas.”