March 4, 2010

Check, please

RAY ROUTHIER

— By

Staff Writer

ome of the tasks aimed at getting your home ready for winter don't necessarily require a lot of time or money.

One quick and easy preparation you might not have thought about, for instance, includes bubble wrap on your basement windows to keep cold air out.

''You just spray some water on the window and then press the bubble wrap, which you've cut to fit, against the window,'' says handyman Kaile Warren, founder of the Portland-based Rent-a-Husband company. ''It's better than using those plastic sheets, because this doesn't allow for an air pocket like those do.''

Of course, some of the things homeowners should do cost money and may require a professional. The most recommended are inspections of heating systems, fireplaces and wood stove flues.

A heating systems inspection, which may cost $150 or so, could save you a furnace breakdown in the middle of winter. And an annual chimney inspection may save you a dangerous flare-up or fire later on.

Chimneys should be inspected annually to check for erosion of the liner and for the buildup of creosote in the flue, said Gerald Parlin, owner of Chimney Tech in South Paris. Cleaning and inspections of chimneys and flues can run from about $65 to $120, he said.

Created from the gasses given off by flames, creosote builds up on the chimney walls and can be flammable, Parlin said. It takes just an eighth of an inch of buildup to become potentially dangerous.

''If you don't have that cleaned out, eventually you could have a chimney fire,'' Parlin said.

There are some things people can also do to slow the buildup of creosote in their chimneys or flues. One is to burn very dry wood. Another is to buy special logs that help eat away creosote; Parlin recommends the ''Chimney Sweeping Log.'' Chimney sweeps and heating system technicians are busy this time of year, but that should not stop you from trying to schedule an appointment right now, especially if you have not had one in a year or so.

But for future reference, Parlin and other chimney sweepers say the spring is a good time to have your chimney or flue swept.

Y-O-U CAN DIY

There are lots of smaller things people can do themselves this time of year to get ready for winter.

If you have a hatch that leads to the attic space, make sure it closes completely and locks, said Ashley Richards, general manager of WarmTech Solutions, a Yarmouth company that specializes in home weatherization. If the hatch doesn't close tightly, install a hook-and-eye latch.

You can also use foam weatherstripping to seal around the hatch and place some rigid foam insulation on the back of the hatch to keep warm air from escaping into the attic.

''You should treat attic hatches and bulkhead cellar doors just like your front door, making sure it's sealed, closed and insulated,'' Richards said.

Richards said you should also take a look at the bottom of your exterior doors. If there is space for cold air to come in, buy a door sweep -- a flexible piece of plastic that fits on the bottom of the door -- to fill in the gap.

You can also look around the cellar for openings from the outside, like little bits of daylight between the foundation and framing, and fill them with weather stripping or caulk. You should also look for openings that lead from the cellar to the living space and plug those up.

''Basically, the cold air comes into your basement (and) filters up into your house. And then the air, warmed by your heating system, moves into the attic,'' Richards said.

Warren, who does regular home-improvement segments for the CBS morning show ''The Early Show,'' said that a very cheap and easy way to help keep cold air out of your basement is to employ bubble wrap.

Many cellar windows, especially those in older houses, have a single pane of glass that lets cold air through. You can use small or big bubbles; it doesn't matter, Warren said.

Warren suggests cutting the bubble wrap to fit your window, then spraying some water on the inside of the window and pressing the bubble wrap to the glass. You won't be able to see out, but most people don't do a lot of gazing out of their basement windows anyway.

Warren says using bubble wrap this way is a better way to insulate windows than those plastic sheet kits sold at home improvement stores. That's because the plastic sheets create an air pocket between the glass and the plastic. But with bubble wrap stuck to the glass, there is no air pocket.

And unlike the sheets, which have to be stuck on with tape, you could do all your windows in bubble wrap and just take them down when you have company.

''They really only take about 30 seconds to put up or take down,'' Warren said.

GUTTER TALK

Warren also recommends looking at the outside of your house before winter. The first place to look is probably the gutters, which should be cleaned before winter.

The timing is sometimes tricky, since you want to wait until all the leaves have fallen, but you also want to do it before the leaves freeze in your gutter. If you don't clean them before winter, you could get ice dams that in turn will cause roof or siding damage, Warren said.

If you don't want to clean the gutters yourself -- getting up on a 20-foot-high ladder is not for everyone -- prices usually start at about $75 for a small ranch house. As a rule, the price doubles for each additional floor, Warren said. That's because it's slower going and requires more workers.

''It's better to clean the gutters now than to have a major repair in the middle of winter,'' Warren said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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