If you haven’t yet fired up your fireplace, insert or wood stove, before you do, make sure the chimney is clean and in good condition.
Candles add light and ambiance in winter, but be careful. Extinguish them before you retire for the evening and keep them away from curtains.

Sacramento Bee

Roof? Check. Windows? Check. Furnace? Check.

When it comes to winter chores, there’s no time for procrastination. Mother Nature waits for no one. When winter comes knocking, simple tasks can become far more complicated.

“We’ve seen a lot of people coming in for insulation or thermostats,” said Ben Lister, manager of the Home Depot in Sacramento, Calif.

Preventive maintenance can lower heating costs.

First, stop the air leaks.

“You’d be amazed,” Lister said. “If you combined all the little gaps and cracks around your house, it would add up to a 9-square-foot hole.”

Weather strip around doors, caulk around windows and spray gap-filler everywhere else; that will block those leaks.

Not sure where to start? “Try the tissue test,” he said. “Take a tissue and place it around doors and windows. If the tissue moves, there’s a leak and lost energy.”

Saving energy is high on consumers’ winter checklists.

“We’ve definitely seen much more awareness,” Lister said. “Before buying products, consumers want to know how it’s going to benefit their home — not just today, but years to come.”

To save energy now, change the air filters of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“Change your air filters every three months and you’ll save $100 a year,” Lister said.

If your furnace has a musty smell, it may be time for a tune-up. That scent can signal other issues that may be resolved with simple fixes now.

These two winter warmers cost nothing:

Open drapes and let sunshine take the chill off rooms. But remember to close them again after dark.

Reverse the direction of ceiling fans so warm air is pushed down into the room. On most models, that’s clockwise.

If a leak materializes now, attack it right away.

“A little drip can cause enormous damage,” Lister said. “You don’t want to wait.”

Windows also may show condensation, a buildup of moisture.

“We often get calls from homeowners who are concerned that their windows are ‘sweating’ or leaking either inside or outside the home because they see moisture on the glass,” said Christopher Burk of Simonton Windows. “In reality, that’s simply not the case. While condensation may collect on the interior or exterior of energy-efficient windows, the units are really doing their job by helping serve as a barrier in the home.”

Recognize the difference between condensation on the glass and between the glass panes of a multilayer window.

“If you are seeing moisture, fogging or cloudiness between the panes of glass in your window, this is a strong indication that the seal of your window has failed and it’s time to get a new window,” Burk said. “Failed seals lack the energy efficiency and features necessary to help you keep energy bills low and enjoy comfortable living in your home. While condensation on the interior or exterior of the glass is manageable, moisture between the glass needs swift attention.”

Other dangers

Winter can create danger around the home.

Ken Nigohosian, MetLife’s regional sales manager for Northern California and a home- and auto-safety expert, focuses first on fire safety. Half of all heating-related home fires happen during December, January and February.

“People want to keep their home heating expenses down,” he said. “So, people look for alternatives — fireplaces and stoves.”

But those come with risks. Remember: Have the chimney cleaned before you fire up the season’s first blaze.

Don’t start a fire with barbecue lighter fluid or other flammable liquids; they’re not for indoor use.

“It increases the intensity of the fire considerably,” Nigohosian said.

Candles in particular present a winter safety challenge.

“Candles do add to the festive atmosphere,” Nigohosian said. “But they can be hazardous around children and pets; keep them away from candles. Never put candles near flammable materials such as curtains or drapes. Make sure all candles are put out before you go to bed or if you leave home.”