The fireplace is an absolute must for maintenance and inspection. Although fireplaces are not energy efficient in most cases, they can be a money saver if you have a wood source. They are also most efficient when a number of people are in the same room as the fireplace.
Buildup from smoke is a recipe for disaster. Over time, creosote is layered onto the tile liners of the chimney from smoke. It happens to be a highly flammable byproduct and can start a chimney fire with an ignition source. A lot of small chimney fires occur without the homeowner even realizing! Gas burning fireplaces burn much cleaner and should only require an inspection each year. But, a wood burning fireplace needs to be inspected and cleaned each year. Check the flashing around the chimney if you perform the sweep from the roof (i.e. top-down method). The brick and mortar should be inspected for cracks, too, At the fireplace do a quick inspection and cleaning. Visually check for cracks and smoke marks. Cracks should be repaired by a professional. Smoke marks could indicate blockage in the chimney (e.g. bird’s nest). Remove smoke marks with a vinegar and water.
Window and Door Seals
Keeping a home well sealed can tremendously improve the heating efficiency. The most common spots for air leaks are around the windows and doors. Visually check the window caulking seal for gaps. Use a putty knife to remove the damaged seal and insert new caulk. Cracks will reappear if the caulk is applied too thinly. Inspect the weatherstripping around the perimeter of the doors. Replace any damaged areas with new material. Replace the entire seal, if required. Feel for drafts by running your hand around the edge of each door. If the weatherstripping is in good shape and there is still a draft, there might not be enough material to bridge the gap. It is possible to layer the strips on top of each other to seal larger gaps.
Furnace Cleaning and Inspection
The most important task for colder climates is servicing the furnace system. It is generally best to have a professional service this system. Furnace maintenance includes blower motor lubrication, burner cleaning, sensor checks, and carbon monoxide measurements. In between service calls be sure to regularly change the filter every couple months. Both the heating and cooling systems utilize the air filters so this will be a year-round task. Luckily, it is an easy DIY job and its relatively cheap.
-Tyler Golberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.