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Check furnace, windows while you can before winter settles in

COURTESY PHOTO Experts advise you have your furnace checked annually, preferably before winter arrives.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Multi-paned windows with chambers in the frames and sashes help reduce air escaping from the home, thus making them more energy-efficient for the home owner.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Ken Richards of Hoosier Windows and Siding uses a light test to show how heat escapes more readily from certain windows compared to others.

By now, you’ve probably felt it coming.

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping — all the tell-tale signs of fall, but a reminder winter is swiftly on its way.

But it’s not here quite yet, which means there is still time to check your windows and your furnace to make sure you’re all set for the big chill that inevitably sets down upon us when December nudges November out of the way.

So the following are some tips on what to do and what to look for, including some do-it-yourself options for those either cash-strapped or wanting to wait to spend on replacing those windows around the house or the old furnace in the basement.

Experts warn, though, spending now and making the home as energy efficient as possible saves you in the long run.

Furnaces

First things first.

You have to make sure everything is in working order.

“I guess the big thing I tell people is to turn on your heater before you need it,” said Matt Farmer, the assistant services manager at Korte Does It All. “That way you know it’s working.”

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems should be checked by a certified technician once a year, and experts recommend this be done in the spring or summer when the furnace is not needed. If anything is wrong, the fix won’t leave anyone out in the cold.   

Farmer and other technicians at Korte Does It All were busy responding to calls earlier this week from people checking their furnaces a little late in the game. But then again, as the old adage goes, better late than never.

“We’ve had a lot of people call us in the last 30 days,” Farmer said. “We had one where their boilers quit working last March, but called us today.”

If there is something wrong with the furnace when it’s turned on, or something sounds out of sorts, it’s always important to shut down the entire system and call someone to have it checked out. Running a furnace which might need repairs, even if it still is working in some capacity, could cause more damage later on — which might require costlier repairs.

“When there is a breakdown, shut the system down,” Farmer said. “Even if it’s putting out heat, it will be bad.”

Most importantly, it’s important to stay calm if all of a sudden the heating system breaks down on a cold day. On a typical Indiana winter day, with temperatures in the 20s or 30s, the house won’t freeze over immediately. According to Farmer, it will take about 24 to 48 hours for the house to get cold.

In this day and age, it’s always good to have a Plan B,” he said, “whether you have a company you use regularly or a place to go.”

Technicians with Korte Does It All carry portable heaters with them on maintenance calls in the winter time in case parts not immediately available are needed for repairs, Farmer said, providing homeowners with a source of heat.

For those wanting to avoid someone coming out to inspect the heater, the very basic thing they can do is change the filter.

Filters, which act as a barrier from dust and other particles, should be changed every two or three months, Farmer said. A range of filters are readily available, from cheap to expensive ones at typical hardware stores to high-end “hospital grade” filters you can find online if you want to really spend and you want or need the filtering power they deliver.

And, finally, take note of the age of your furnace.

A good one should last 15 to 20 years. Others may last longer, but the older they get the more potential for problems. Plus, parts for older furnaces might be more scarce, thus repairs may cost more money. Add to that scarcity the fact that an older heating system might not clean out the moisture in the air like it once did, making it harder for those who suffer from allergies.

A decision for a full replacement, which might seem like a costly venture but may save money and energy in the long run, might have to be made.

Windows

What’s the first thing you can do to start saving on your energy bills?

Check your windows.

Windows are the primary reason for heat loss or solar gain and account for 25 percent of energy usage in the home, according to the Hoosier Windows and Siding website. If it’s frigid outside and you have single-pane windows or cracks around the edges of the sills, you’re going to spend a lot extra to keep your home warm.

“No. 1, if you’ve got single-pane windows, you want to upgrade as soon as possible,” said Ken Richards, the head of installation at Hoosier Windows and Siding on Lima Road.

Double- or triple-paned windows help keep heat from escaping the home and can cut a monthly energy bill by roughly 40 percent, according to the window experts.

And while all the trend attention in homes has focused on smart technology lately, window technology — of all things — has come a long way in the past decade or so as well. Chambers built into vinyl window sashes and frames are designed to reduce energy costs and keep hot air inside the home from leaving.

For the budget savvy, though, there are ways to cut energy costs before taking the plunge of full-on replacement windows.

Self-adhesive foam weather stripping or caulk can be used to seal gaps around window sashes and even doors. Clear plastic film can be mounted to the frame and stretched over the window, and it will act as a barrier to heat escaping.

“Use anything you can to help close up the window for the winter,” Richards said. “Make sure everything is sealed up and there are no gaps. That’s the main thing.”

You can buy various coatings at a range of prices to put over your windows, and Richards said you can even hang an electric blanket behind the window for the winter. All of these things, however, only stave off the inevitable, especially if sashes and frames are old and rotting.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid over a crack in a dike,” Richards said.

To put it into real world terms, Richards said a $400 energy bill in the winter could be reduced to about $250 or $200 with today’s window technology designed to save energy. And while those replacements might be expensive in the short term, the long-term gains are going to more than make up for the one-time outflow of cash.

And in the end, you’ll even be warmer when the snow hits.

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