• Have it inspected by a professional chimney inspector every year.
• Have it cleaned every year or two, or more if you have a lot of fires or tend to burn softer woods.
• A chimney cap with a rain hood and screen will minimize rain damage and keep critters out.
• Stock up on clean, dry firewood. A fireplace store can recommend someone to deliver and stack it for you.
• Store it away from your house to keep mice and other vermin at a distance.
• Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. When you're using it, turn down the thermostat and open a window near the fireplace to prevent warm air from being pulled from other parts of the house.
• Install glass doors on the fireplace to keep warm air from being drawn up the chimney.
• If you use the fireplace frequently, a fireplace insert improves efficiency by blowing heat into the room and limiting heat loss up the chimney.
Cold out, heat in
• Reducing air leaks and properly insulating walls, crawl spaces and floors can cut energy bills by up to 10 percent.
• Seal leaky ducts with metal-backed tape or aerosol sealant. Consider having your insulation updated to save money and improve comfort.
• Set your thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when you're home; lower it when you're sleeping or away from home for more than a few hours.
• Use a programmable thermostat to make the switches automatic.
• On sunny days, open curtains and blinds to let the sun's heat in. Close them at night to trap the warmth inside.
• Close or install storm windows, which reduce drafts and frost formation and can cut heat loss through the window by 25 percent to 50 percent. For a cheaper alternative, cover windows with plastic.
• Schedule a home energy audit through your energy company. A professional will inspect your home and identify ways you can save on energy. Cost: $30 to $100.
Keep rooms toasty
• Run your ceiling fan at low speed in reverse direction (clockwise) so the blades drive warm air down into the room.
• Change your furnace filters per the manufacturer recommendations. Most homes are built with a 1-inch filter that should be refreshed every month.
• Clean your furnace before the first cold spell. If your furnace isn't too dirty, you can save money by vacuuming the blades yourself.
• Get acquainted with your house's ductwork. Most homes are equipped with dampers, allowing you to change the volume of heat delivered upstairs, downstairs and all rooms in between.
• Disconnect your garden hose, shut off the water valve and drain the spigot -- even if you have a frost-free faucet.
• Drain the sediment from your water heater. This should be done once or twice every year.
• Repair any exterior damage that might invite pests. Carpenter ants like leaky pipes, warped storm windows and tattered roof shingles, whereas frayed screens and chewed-through door sweeps attract rodents.
• Clear your garage of mice-magnets, especially if you have an attached garage. This isn't the place to stash woodpiles and unsealed birdseed.
• Prevent a flooded basement by caulking any gaps in your sidewalks, especially those closest to the house.
• Clean debris from gutters and downspouts. Open any roof drains or vents.
• Check the caulking around vents and chimneys and other protrusions to make sure the seal is tight.
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