• U.S. News & World Report

5 Simple Steps to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Fall is here. Days are shortening, and temperatures are dropping. Before long, many people will be firing up their furnaces for the first time in months and preparing for the winter ahead. Winter preparations for both apartment dwellers and homeowners are as simple or as involved as you want to make them. Almost every strategy is designed to save money by taking advantage of advance knowledge of the temperature change. Some strategies take more time and others save more money.

Here are five changes that are simple to execute and can save money during the winter months.

1. Replace the weather stripping around your doors. If you can run your hand around the edges of an outside-facing door on a cold day and feel the flow of cool air, you have an airflow problem, one that's going to cost you a lot of money over the course of the winter. Even if you heat the air inside of your home, that warm air is going to flow outside around the edges of your doors and be replaced by cool outdoor air, which you'll have to heat. The costs add up.

The solution is to install weather strips around the edges of your external doors. Most hardware stores sell kits, making the actual installation into a simple task. Generally, you just close the door, hold the strips in place and attach them, either by pounding in nails, or through some other simple method of attachment. Doing so will keep a lot of warm air from leaving your home this winter, cutting your energy bill dramatically.

2. Clean your air vents and baseboard heaters. Depending on the type of heating you have in your home, you likely either have air vents or baseboard heaters all over the place. In both cases, a careful cleaning before they're in heavy winter use can save you surprising amounts of money.

Just wipe down and remove as much dust as possible from baseboard heaters, particularly from the inside, and they'll run much more efficiently. Most baseboard heaters have a removable front, so take that off and gently but thoroughly clean the inside. If you have air vents, remove the grates and remove all dust and debris that you find within reach, as all of that stuff slows down airflow.

3. Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. You want to be pushing hot air downward, so make sure your ceiling fans are pushing air down on you when you're standing underneath them.

On most ceiling fans, there's a switch that will reverse the direction of the blades, so just flip that switch. Then, when you run the ceiling fan, the warm air is pressed down from the ceiling, keeping the warmer air inside for longer and reducing the burden on your furnace or baseboard heater.

4. "Seal" any unused rooms. If you have any rooms that are unused or irregularly used in your home, seal them off, so that you're not paying to heat them during the winter. Simply turn off any baseboard heaters, close any vents and put a blanket or towel along the bottom of the door to minimize airflow. You can obviously undo these steps if you ever need to use the room for anything during the winter.