Get your home ready for a safe, warm winter

URBANA—Many people don’t realize the power they have to control their electricity bills. As temperatures start to fall, a small investment of time now can pay big dividends in keeping your home warm and lowering costs while ensuring safety this winter.

“Energy dollars can pour out of homes through drafty doors, windows, attics, walls, and floors without even being noticed,” says Molly Hall, executive director of the Illinois Electric Council and Safe Electricity. “Winterizing steps can pay for themselves relatively quickly with heating bill savings, and offer the opportunity to make sure your home is safe at the same time.”

Have a professional inspect and service your furnace to make sure it is in good working order. An efficient heating system means greater comfort at a lower cost. Regularly clean or replace furnace filters during high winter use, and check ducts, flues and chimneys. Keeping heating equipment clean and in good repair will ensure peak efficiency and safety.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends installing a programmable thermostat to automatically raise and lower home temperatures for energy savings, day and night. Set your thermostat to lower temperatures while you’re asleep or away from home.

Make sure attics and flooring, especially above unheated spaces such as crawl spaces and garages, are appropriately insulated. Find air leaks in homes by moistening fingertips and running them around doors or window frames to feel a draft. Check around outlets and look for gaps near the dryer vent, chimneys and faucet pipes. Seal them all with caulking or weather-stripping.

Another way to save energy is by replacing screens with storm windows and doors. Double-pane windows with low-e coating can reduce heating bills by 34 percent in cold climates compared to uncoated, single-pane windows. If you have older or leaky windows that you cannot replace, consider temporary fixes, such as plastic film kits that create the effect of an interior storm window.

As you take steps to winterize your home, use the opportunity to check for electrical hazards. The dry winter air is a perfect environment for electric shock and fire.

Use this electrical safety checklist:

Check outlets and make sure they are not overloaded or warm to the touch.

Examine electrical cords for cracks, frays and damaged plugs, and don’t run cords under rugs, furniture or behind baseboards.

Check that light bulbs are the proper wattage and securely screwed in light fixtures so bulbs don’t overheat and ignite curtains or nearby furniture.

Outlets related to frequent circuit breaker trips or blown fuses should be inspected by a professional. Dimming lights and shrinking pictures on televisions and computer monitors are also electrical warning signs that merit an inspection.

Make sure bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, and outdoor outlets have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and test and reset them monthly. If these outlets do not have GFCIs, have them professionally installed.

Test your smoke detector batteries. Replace them if they are more than six months old.

If an electric space heater is used, make sure the wiring is adequate, and check for cord fraying, splitting wires, or overheating. Don’t place a portable heater in high-traffic areas, and keep it clear of curtains, bedding, clothes, and furniture. Never use extension cords with electric heaters.

For more electrical safety information, visit and for efficiency information, visit The Illinois Electric Council is an educational outreach coalition of several dozen organizations, including electric utilities, the University of Illinois Extension and other entities committed to promoting the safe, efficient use of electricity.

From the Nov. 8-14, 2006, issue

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