It's that time of year again _ the heating season is upon us, and with the rising cost of fuel this year it is more important then ever to be prepared for the upcoming heating season. There are several ways to prepare your home for the winter weather, such as having your furnace inspected, getting your chimney cleaned and preparing the exterior of your home for the freezing winter temperatures.

According to Dave Harder, president of Reinhardt Home Heating in West Oneonta, maintaining and having your furnace inspected each year by an authorized technician is essential for its proper operation and upkeep.

With proper care and cleaning of heating units, individuals can save on heating bills, frustration from units breaking down and potential emergency fees, he said. Ideally, units should be inspected before the beginning of the heating season. However, anytime is a good time to have your furnace inspected before any major problems arise.

Harder also highly recommends having a carbon monoxide detector installed as well. Carbon monoxide detectors should be in every home as a safeguard, Harder said. Since carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas emitted from heating systems that are not working properly _ serious illness, even death, can occur. Therefore, installing a carbon monoxide detector can be one of the best investments homeowners can make, he said. Carbon monoxide detectors can be found at most hardware and home building supply stores.

Along with a carbon monoxide detector, Harder recommends that individuals inspect all of their smoke detectors as well, and ensure that they are in working order.

For anyone heating their home with a wood stove this year, Dennis Schultz of Sunrise Plumbing and Heating in Oneonta recommends having a proper cleaning done of the chimney.

Not only will this prevent a build up of creosote, but it will also help to ensure that there is a proper draft running through the chimney.

Schultz, who is the husband of the writer of this article, said wood stoves are a wonderful alternative for heating your home during the cold weather. However, they should be properly maintained and inspected before the heating season begins _ as a preventative measure against chimney fires.

When preparing for cold weather, do not overlook the care and maintenance of the exterior of your home as well.

First, be sure to replace any window screens with storm glass windows to keep out blowing drafts and the cold winter air. If you do not have storm windows, simply cover any windows and/or doors with a "plastic kit" available at most home improvement stores.

According to Harder, covering doors and windows with the plastic from the kit, although temporary, will drastically help to reduce the amount of heat that can escape from an improper seal.

Caulking windows and doors will also assist in preventing heat loss, as will applying weather stripping where needed, Harder said.

Second, be sure to clean any gutters and downspouts on your home also to try to prevent a buildup of debris, which may lead to potential freezing and breakage.

In addition, add an extra layer of protection this winter by having insulation blown into the attic and/or walls. It is an investment that in the long run will help to keep your heating bills down. According to Harder, the amount of fuel that the average family uses has decreased from approximately 1,200 to 4,00 gallons per heating season to 800 to 900 gallons per season. This change is in large part due to individuals adding additional insulation to their homes, he said.

Harder also suggests using "small foam insulation pads," designed to insulate behind outlets to prevent cold air from coming in the house.

Schultz suggested that any exterior pipes and or hoses be drained to prevent freezing. Insulate exposed pipes and make sure that any heating tape that is in use is in proper working condition with no exposed wires, as well.

Be proactive this winter by preparing your home for the long, cold winter months and maybe save some money on your next heating bill. And don't forget to turn your thermostat down a notch or two and wear a warm, woolly sweater.

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