Simple steps you can take to lower your energy bills.
When most people hear the word "audit" they're likely to break out in a cold sweat. But an energy audit is something any homeowner should happily undergo -- it will identify measures that will help lower your energy bills, make your home more comfortable and reduce your carbon footprint. Best of all, if you're moderately handy, you can do the audit yourself. For the DIY-challenged, or for those wishing to go above and beyond the basics, there is the option of a professional audit. Before enlisting the services of a professional auditor, though, check with your utility or local government to see if they offer assistance for audits. A great source for further information on home audits is the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Information Center
. On this site you can also find a link to state and federal audit assistance
programs. There are also a variety of tax credits
available for improving your home's energy efficiency or adding renewable energy
, some of which at the time of this writing are set to expire at the end of 2008.
The best place to start your audit is to locate areas where air leaks may occur by running your hand around doors, windows, baseboards and electrical outlets. If it's not a windy day and you can't locate any leaks, try pressurizing your home: close all windows, doors and flues and then turn on all your exhaust fans (typically in your bathrooms and kitchen).
Another trick is to hold a smoking incense stick near windows and doors to help indicate areas of leakage. A professional auditor will use a device called a blower door
to pressurize the house and locate leaks.
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Any gaps or areas of air leakage should be sealed with simple caulking or weather stripping available at hardware stores. Reducing drafts in a home can result in energy savings of 5 to 30 percent per year.
Just as important as controlling air leaks is ensuring your home is well insulated. Recommended insulation levels, or "R' values, have been steadily increasing as concerns over fuel prices and environmental issues mount. Insulation
is a relatively inexpensive product that can have a huge impact on your energy bills. Improve insulation in the easy-to-access areas first such as the attic floor between your basement and living space.
Many people are now insulating existing exterior walls by blowing in insulation. While this method can be effective it can also leave gaps -- do it only after sufficient insulation has been installed in the easy-to-reach parts of the house.
If your windows are single glazed (i.e., one pane of glass), consider retrofitting double-glazed windows. A double-glazed window can cut heat loss in half. The retrofit double-glazing market is fairly competitive and costs have come down in recent years. Be sure to investigate the quality of the company you choose and remember, not all windows have to be done at once.
An alternative to double-glazing is to install floor-length insulated curtains with pelmets
A pelmet is a frame placed above a window that reduces convection currents across the window. Installing insulated curtains and pelmets can have almost the same impact as double-glazing, but they only work when they're closed.
Hot Water Heating.
Heating hot water can account for up to 25 percent of a home's energy needs. The most significant savings usually come by switching to a more efficient system. But there are a number of other less expensive measures you can take to reduce water heating energy. Inspect the pipes around your tank and ensure they're insulated and that the insulation is in good condition. If the tank is warm to the touch, purchase an insulating blanket to wrap around the tank or, better yet, replace the tank altogether. Set your water heater to 120 -F -- any higher is unnecessary and leads to even greater heat losses. Additionally, installing low-flow shower heads can significantly reduce a home's hot water usage. If you're considering replacing your hot water system, check out solar
, heat pump
or instantaneous hot water heating options
. Selecting the best system will depend on your climate, how and when you use water, and the number of people in your home.
Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).
An HVAC system typically represents a home's single largest source of energy use, representing over 50 percent of the total energy use in U.S. houses. Improving the thermal performance of your home (see above) is the single biggest opportunity to reduce HVAC energy use. Other measures you can take to reduce HVAC energy use include installling a programmable thermostat and fixing leaky ducts. If you have an old forced-air delivery system, it may be worthwhile to have your ducts examined by a professional. Options for new HVAC systems include heat pumps
, geothermal (or ground source) heat pumps
, condensing boilers
and pellet fires
, which burn compressed wood waste.
If you have a home that is constructed on a concrete slab you might consider replacing carpeting with tiles in rooms that receive direct sunlight. Doing so will help control overheating in the summer and provide free passive heating in the winter.
Take a close look at the types of lights in your home. Consider replacing existing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents lights (CFLs). Compact fluorescents use approximately one-fifth the energy of a typical incandescent bulb and can last up to 10 times longer. They're now available in a variety of shapes and sizes and can replace bulbs in almost any fixture. Compact fluorescents should be recycled or disposed of properly due to the small amount of mercury they contain.
Other alternatives to the incandescent bulb are light emitting diodes (LEDs) and halogen replacement bulbs. While LED technology has improved immensely over recent years for the most part LEDs will not yet produce the light levels of the bulbs they are designed to replace. However they are ideal for some applications and they can be used with a dimmable fixture unlike most CFLs. The downside to LED lights is their high initial cost. But when you factor in their longevity -- up to 50,000 hours -" they'll more than pay for themselves over their lifetime.
In most homes the refrigerator is the single biggest plug load. To assess your fridge examine the door seals. If you can feel cold air leaking out it's a good idea to replace them. Old refrigerators can be extremely inefficient. If your fridge is more than five to ten years old consider replacing it. A modern Energy Star
refrigerator can use 40 percent less energy than a conventional model sold just seven years ago. And if you purchase a new fridge, resist the temptation to make your old fridge your new beer cooler.
Many modern appliances have a standby load. A standby load is the power drawn by microwaves, stereos, TVs, dishwashers and other appliances while they're waiting to be used. While the power of any one of these appliances in standby mode is not significant, over a period of a year the cumulative energy from multiple appliances can add up. Consider unplugging appliances that are used infrequently to reduce standby power. Or plug appliances into a power board and turn off the power board when the appliance is not in use.
If you're curious about how much energy your appliances are drawing, pick up a centameter
. It's a small device that provides a digital display of the power your house is drawing. Place one in a visible location and it'll function as a great reminder to everyone in your home just how much energy you're using.
Your first goal in a home energy audit is to pluck the low-hanging fruit. First tackle the measures that can be done easily and cheaply like draft-proofing and replacing the seals on your fridge. Next on your list should be those measures that will give you the greatest return on your investment, like improving insulation and replacing leaky ducting. Your last step should be those big-ticket items, like installing a new HVAC system or retrofitting double-glazed windows.
With winter fuel bills looming, a crawl through the basement might just be the ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
8 cheap ways to make your home more energy-efficient.
If you're dead-set on that charming but energy-inefficient house, here are some relatively inexpensive ways to whittle your energy bills after you move in.
Replace your refrigerator.
This is one of the biggest energy-guzzling appliances in the house, says Lisa Dornan, spokeswoman for Direct Energy, and there have been big changes in the efficiency of this appliance over the last five years. "If you look back at the top-rated refrigerator in 2001 that was Energy Star, and one you'd buy today with an Energy Star rating, there would be a 20% to 40% difference in energy efficiency," she says. Her firm, Direct Energy, performs home energy audits and is an energy retailer. Replacing older dishwashers and dryers can make a big difference too, she adds.
Install a programmable thermostat and a timer for the water heater.
Just as you would flip off the lights before heading out to work, you should turn the heating or cooling off or down while you're away. Program the thermostat for a higher temperature when you're gone in warmer months, or lower in cooler months. These thermostats can be had for $150 at big-box hardware stores.
Likewise, don't heat your water when you're not there to use it. "You definitely want to make sure you are not heating the whole tank needlessly," Dornan says.
Tankless water heaters can be a great investment too, she adds, but they may take a few years to pay for themselves.
Put a solar film or solar shades on the outside of windows to cut the heat.
If you're moving into a house with single-paned windows, or living in a climate with extreme heat, you should consider putting something on the outside to reflect the light, Arizona home inspector Scott Hubbard says .
Don't let the heat escape.
Also, caulk window and door frames to make sure they are airtight. And if possible, use honeycomb-type shades on the inside to trap the heat before it is absorbed into the room.
Use compact fluorescent bulbs or LED lighting.
This is kind of a no-brainer, experts say, because it's so cheap to do and saves so much on your electricity bill. "Just for swapping out 10 light bulbs (in my home), I was able to get $400 a year in energy savings," Dornan says.
Change the filter on your air conditioner regularly.
This monthly maintenance helps it run more efficiently, Dornan says, and minimizes wear and tear on your unit. Arranging furniture so it doesn't block air vents also is important to maximize the flow of cooling from your system.
Put in shady landscaping.
Planting a tree or some vegetation outside a big window can shade your house from the strongest rays of the sun and stifle freezing winds. Planting low-water native plants can also cut your water bill, lowering the total cost you pay for you home each month. (See this slide show on 16 water-wise plants
and read more about planning a drought-tolerant garden.)
Invest in an attic fan.
These inexpensive fans can make a difference in the temperature of the whole house and keep your air conditioning from working so hard.
14 ways to lower your heating bill
Prices for heating oil and natural gas may have leveled off, but there are still some things you should do to cut your costs this winter.
There's good news and bad news if you're a homeowner who's bracing yourself for the annual rise in winter heating costs: The bill won't hurt more this year, but it won't hurt much less.
The Energy Information Administration forecasts that the average household heating fuel expenditures this winter will decrease to $928 per household, down from $947 last year. This is the first price drop since the winter of 2001-2002.
If you hope to save more than the projected $19, there are many steps you can take.
"There's a lot of things that the entrepreneurial homeowner can do, if he's a little bit handy," says John Ryan, team leader for commercial buildings for the Building Technologies Program in the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, who has spent years thinking about efficiency in homes.
Here are more than a dozen simple steps you can take to slash your home's heating bill. Six steps cost nothing. Eight more cost under $100. Combine them, and you can often expect to save 20% -- and possibly much, much more -- on your home heating bill this winter. And some new federal tax breaks even sweeten the opportunity.
Grab that free, low-hanging fruit.
First, the freebies. These strategies may sound simplistic, but they work well:
- Turn down the thermostat . "The rule of thumb is that you can save about 3% on your heating bill for every degree that you set back your thermostat" full time, says Bill Prindle, deputy director for the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Turn down the thermostat 10 degrees when you go to work, and again when you go to bed -- a total of 16 hours a day -- and you can save about 14% on your heating bill, says Prindle.
- Use fans wisely . In just one hour, a hard-working bathroom or kitchen fan can expel a houseful of warm air, according to the Department of Energy. Turn them off as soon as they've done their job.
- Keep the fireplace damper closed . Heat rises, and an open damper is like a hole in the roof. Also, limit use of the fireplace, since fires actually suck heat from a room, says Harvey Sachs, director of ACEEE's buildings program. Close off seldom-used rooms. And shut the vents inside.
- Turn down the water heater . Lowering the temperature of water in the water heater to 115-120 degrees reduces power use often without a noticeable difference to the user, says Prindle.
- Keep heating vents clear. Vents blocked by rugs and furniture prevent heated air from circulating efficiently.
- Use curtains . Opening curtains and shades on south-facing windows during the day allows solar radiation to warm a living space; closing all curtains at night helps retard the escape of that heat.
So you've put the easiest, and free, ideas to work. Now you can really make a dent in that heating bill with one cheap trip to a hardware store (Home Depot, for example, has all of the items below) and a few hours of work
Block that leak!
The small gaps surrounding windows, doors and other areas in the American house, taken together, are like a 9-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group's "30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth." Plugging them can save you up to 10% on that heating bill, and the materials will pay for themselves within a year, ACEEE says.
First, find the leaks: On a windy day, hold a lit incense stick to the most common drafty areas: chimney flashing, recessed lighting, sill plates, window and door frames, all ducts and flues and electrical outlets.
Buy door sweeps ($3-$10) to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk ($2-$5 per roll, plus a $10 caulk gun) or tacky rope caulk to block those drafty spots around window frames. Apply weather-stripping ($3-$6 for up to 17 feet) to movable joints. Outlet gaskets ($10 for 10) can easily be installed in electrical outlets in a home's outer walls, where cold air often enters.
Keep your ducts in a row.
A home that uses ductwork to move heated air can lose up to 60% of that air before it reaches the vents if the ducts are poorly connected, not well insulated and travel through unheated spaces such as the attic or crawlspace, says the government. "If you are a halfway savvy do-it-yourselfer, and your ductwork and heating and air-conditioning equipment are in the attic, you can do an awful lot to fix your system, at low cost," says Sachs.
First, look for obvious places in the attic, basement or in crawlspaces where ducts have become disconnected. Reconnect them, and fix places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, says the Department of Energy's Ryan.
Fix remaining gaps with tape, but don't use traditional duct tape, which deteriorates; instead, use metal-backed tape ($6-$10 per roll) or aerosol sealant. Where possible, wrap the ducts' exterior with special duct insulation ($8-$12 for 15 feet). Though the cost will be substantially more, it's a good idea to get a professional to help insulate ducts when electrical wires or lighting fixtures are nearby.
- Swaddle water heater and pipes . Unless you've got a newer water heater that already has built-in insulation, covering your water heater with an insulated "jacket" ($17-$20) will keep costs down, especially if your heater is in an unheated place like a garage. Also, wrap water pipes ($1-$5 per 5-foot section) when possible, especially when they run through uninsulated areas.
- Winterize windows. If you can't afford storm windows, put plastic film on those windows ($6 covers three windows) where a clear view isn't crucial, which will curb drafts and keep windows from rattling.
- Buy a low-flow shower head . A water-efficient shower head (often less than $20) can use 25% to 50% less hot water, saving both on water and power bills, with little to no reduction in user satisfaction, says Prindle.
- Buy a smart thermostat . If you're the kind of person who forgets to turn the temperature down at night and before work, but who doesn't mind programming things like the TV remote control, a "smart" thermostat ($50-$100) can be set to change the temperature for you.
- Keep your furnace in shape . "It's amazing how often a heating or air conditioning unit stops working because a $3 or $15 air filter is clogged," says Sachs. Replace the air filter ($4-$16) according to manufacturer's directions and your heating system will operate more efficiently. Oil-fired boilers should be cleaned and tuned annually, and gas systems, every two years($100-$125). By maintaining your heating unit, you can save between 3% and 10% on heating bills, says ACEEE.
- Look for other insulation opportunities . Some well-placed insulation, especially in the attic of older homes, can save a bundle ($7-$16, in rolls from 22-32 feet, depending on insulation value).
First, however, Sachs recommends going into the attic and looking for black-stained areas on the edges of the fiberglass. That's dust, and it shows where air is flowing up out of the living space. Sealing that area first will do more good than simply piling on more insulation.
By following all of the aforementioned strategies, the owner of an older home can likely save much more than 20% on heating bills, he says.
So you've spent the minimum and will now save a noticeable chunk of money. What else can you do in the future? Replace appliances, heating units, light fixtures and bulbs with high-efficiency replacements.
It costs money to save money, however. While an adequate vinyl window might cost $100-$150, a double-paned window with a low e-rating (that's a good thing) can cost $50-$100 more, says Nevil Eastwood, director of construction and environmental resources for Habitat for Humanity International in Georgia. "That adds up when you've got 15 windows in your house," Eastwood acknowledges.
Many experts therefore recommend buying high-efficiency windows and appliances as their predecessors wear out and you need to replace them anyway. Over time, the extra cost is recouped in improved efficiency.
"If your furnace is over 20 years old, you're probably paying far more to use it," says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for Energy Star
, a federal-government-backed program that promotes energy efficiency and that lends its name to energy-saving products. Furnaces bearing the Energy Star label are about 15% more efficient than a standard conventional model, says Vargas.
A Chicago resident might pay an Energy Star premium of $1,400 or so on an average home furnace for that area, Vargas says, but the savings pay off the extra cost in three or four years.
Many utilities offer discounts or rebates on energy-saving products. Call and ask. Loans
are also sometimes available for major improvements that will incorporate energy-efficient products or to purchase a high-efficiency home.
Thank you, Washington (sort of).
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives most of its $14.5 billion in tax breaks over the next 10 years to businesses, but it does throw a few bones to homeowners, says CCH Inc.
, a provider of tax and accounting information and software.
Homeowners who make energy-efficient improvements to existing homes can qualify for a 10% tax credit, up to $500. A credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes, compared with a deduction, which only decreases taxable income. Improvements that can qualify include adding insulation, metal roofs coated with heat-reducing pigments, and energy-efficient windows, doors and skylights (though only $200 can come from windows).
Other items that meet certain criteria qualify for the credit with specific limitations, according to CCH: Advanced main air circulating fans can earn up to a $50 credit; some natural gas, propane or oil furnaces or hot water boilers are eligible for up to a $150 credit; and qualifying electric and geothermal heat pumps qualify for up to a $300 credit. The credits can be taken on 2006 and 2007 returns, but the total credits for the two years cannot exceed the $500 maximum, says CCH.
The act also gives homeowners a tax credit for 30% of the cost of buying and installing residential solar water heating and photovoltaic equipment, says CCH. The maximum credit is $2,000. Solar water heaters for swimming pools and hot tubs do not qualify. The credit, which expires at the end of 2007, also applies to homeowners who install fuel cells to supply electricity. The maximum credit is $500 for each 0.5 kilowatt of capacity.
Still need help?
If you're really in a pinch to pay that heating bill, some agencies and governments offer help.
10 Ways to Winterize your Home -" Now
You'll get a season's worth of savings and peace of mind by taking a few steps in the fall to get your home ready for cold weather.
So you've pulled your sweaters out of mothballs and found your mittens at the bottom of the coat closet. But what about your house -- is it prepared for the cold months ahead?
You'll be a lot less comfortable in the coming months if you haven't girded Home Sweet Home for Old Man Winter.
With the help of several experts, we've boiled down your autumn to-do list to 10 easy tips:
1. Clean those gutters.
Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home's gutters -- by hand, by scraper or spatula, and finally by a good hose rinse -- so that winter's rain and melting snow can drain. Clogged drains can form ice dams, in which water backs up, freezes and causes water to seep into the house, the Insurance Information Institute says.
As you're hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the house's foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.
"The rule of thumb is that water should be at least 10 feet away from the house," says Michael Broili, the director of the Well Home Program for the Phinney Neighborhood Association
, a nationally recognized neighborhood group in Seattle.
2. Block those leaks.
One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out, experts say. The average American home has leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group.
First, find the leaks: On a breezy day, walk around inside holding a lit incense stick to the most common drafty areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames, electrical outlets.
Then, buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots, says Danny Lipford
, host of the nationally syndicated TV show "Today's Homeowner." Outlet gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share a home's outer walls, where cold air often enters.
Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. For brick areas, use masonry sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing. "Even if it's a small crack, it's worth sealing up," Lipford says. "It also discourages any insects from entering your home."
3. Insulate yourself.
"Another thing that does cost a little money -- but boy, you do get the money back quick -- is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic," says Lipford. "Regardless of the climate conditions you live in, in the (U.S.) you need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic."
Don't clutter your brain with R-values or measuring tape, though. Here's Lipford's rule of thumb on whether you need to add insulation: "If you go into the attic and you can see the ceiling joists you know you don't have enough, because a ceiling joist is at most 10 or 11 inches."
A related tip: If you're layering insulation atop other insulation, don't use the kind that has "kraft face" finish (i.e., a paper backing). It acts as a vapor barrier, Lipford explains, and therefore can cause moisture problems in the insulation.
4. Check the furnace.
First, turn your furnace on now, to make sure it's even working, before the coldest weather descends. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. But if the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional.
It's a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually. Costs will often run about $100-$125. An inspector should do the following, among other things:
Make sure that the thermostat and pilot light are working properly.
Make sure that the fuel pipe entering your furnace doesn't have a leak.
Check the heat exchanger for cracks -- a crack can send carbon monoxide into the home.
Change the filter.
Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (check them monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed.
5. Get your ducts in a row.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That's a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. (Check out this audit tool
for other ideas on how to save on your energy bills this winter.)
Ducts aren't always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, the basement and crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn't stand up to the job over time).
Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.
6. Face your windows.
Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens and put up storm windows, which provide an extra layer of protection and warmth for the home. Storm windows are particularly helpful if you have old, single-pane glass windows. But if you don't have storm windows, and your windows are leaky or drafty, "They need to be updated to a more efficient window," says Lipford.
Of course, windows are pricey. Budget to replace them a few at a time, and in the meantime, buy a window insulator kit, Lipford and Broili recommend. Basically, the kit is plastic sheeting that's affixed to a window's interior with double-stick tape. A hair dryer is then used to shrink-wrap the sheeting onto the window. (It can be removed in the spring.) "It's temporary and it's not pretty, but it's inexpensive (about $4 a window) and it's extremely effective," says Lipford.
7. Don't forget the chimney.
Ideally, spring is the time to think about your chimney, because "chimney sweeps are going crazy right now, as you might have guessed," says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
That said, don't put off your chimney needs before using your fireplace, Eldridge advises. "A common myth is that a chimney needs to be swept every year," says Eldridge. Not true. But a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year, he adds. "I've seen tennis balls and ducks in chimneys," he says.
Ask for a Level 1 inspection, in which the professional examines the readily accessible portions of the chimney, Eldridge says. "Most certified chimney sweeps include a Level 1 service with a sweep," he adds.
Woodstoves are a different beast, however, cautions Eldridge. They should be swept more than once a year. A general rule of thumb is that a cleaning should be performed for every - inch of creosote, "anywhere that it's found." Why? "If it's ash, then it's primarily lye -- the same stuff that was once used to make soap, and it's very acidic." It can cause mortar and the metal damper to rot, Eldridge says.
Another tip: Buy a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen, advises Eldridge. "It's probably the single easiest protection" because it keeps out foreign objects (birds, tennis balls) as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace's walls. He advises buying based on durability, not appearance.
One other reminder: To keep out cold air, fireplace owners should keep their chimney's damper closed when the fireplace isn't in use. And for the same reason, woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn't in use.
Check out CSIA'S Web site
for a list of certified chimney sweeps in your area.
8. Reverse that fan.
"Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don't often think of," says Lipford. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable. (Here's how you know the fan is ready for winter: As you look up, the blades should be turning clockwise, says Lipford.)
9. Wrap those pipes.
A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before Jack Frost sets his grip: Before freezing nights hit, make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house (via a turnoff valve), and that the lines are drained, says Broili. In climes such as Portland, Ore., or Seattle, where freezing nights aren't commonplace, you can install Styrofoam cups with a screw attachment to help insulate spigots, says Broili.
Next, go looking for other pipes that aren't insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces -- pipes that run through crawlspaces, basements or garages. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you're really worried about a pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.
10. Finally, check those alarms.
This is a great time to check the operation -- and change the batteries -- on your home's smoke detectors. Detectors should be replaced every 10 years, fire officials say. Test them -- older ones in particular -- with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the "test" button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works.
Also, invest in a carbon-monoxide detector; every home should have at least one.