Safe home heating not difficult task

By Kevin WIlson: Freedom New Mexico

With evening temperatures in the low 40s this week, eastern New Mexico residents are pulling out extra blankets and mugs for hot chocolate and cider.

They’ll also be looking for ways to heat their residences. A few small steps can make a home warm, safe and efficient.

Andy Cox has owned Cox Refrigeration and Electric for 27 years, and this is about the time his and other heating businesses get plenty of calls about winter heating options.

“We get some prior to the cold snap coming in,” Cox said. “Just a week ago, we had a pretty cold day and we had a lot of people call.”

Cox mentioned two mistakes people generally make with home heating. The first is when a homeowner turns off all heating equipment before going to bed in an effort to save electricity. He said it takes about as much energy to heat the home back up each morning than it does just kicking the thermostat down about five degrees.

The second mistake is routine maintenance, or lack thereof.

“One thing they commonly overlook is the air filter,” Cox said. “If that’s been neglected, their blower unit could (become) dirty. That’s something we’d have to (fix), but the filter is something they could do.”

Good weather stripping can run from $50 to $100, and insulation is much more expensive, but Cox said, “Stuff like that pays for itself and it keeps paying for itself over and over.”

With home heating comes risks.

Lance Hill, battalion chief at the Portales Fire Department, said a carbon monoxide test kit is probably a good investment for people relying on fireplaces and gas furnaces.

“It’s a colorless, odorless gas,” Hill said, “that can affect them when they don’t realize (anything’s wrong).” He said a telltale sign is if you get a headache in the house and the headache disappears when you leave the house.

Because of carbon monoxide, he recommends not using kitchen stoves as heat sources.

Other safety tips Hill recommends include:

• Never leaving space heaters unattended, and buying units that will shut off for safety reasons (i.e. if the unit tips over or comes too close to other objects).

• Using surge protectors and not overloading outlets.

• Properly disposing of coal from fireplaces. Hill recommended putting hot coals in a metal bucket before smoldering them in water, and putting that bucket on a concrete slab. Putting that bucket on a wooden deck, Hill said, can create a fire hazard.

Home heating tips

1. Start with socks: If your feet are cold, your whole body will feel cold, so make a point of wearing socks around the house in the winter. Next step, bundle up in a sweater or a blanket instead of kicking up the heat.

2. Tap heat that’s there anyway: When you shower, keep the bathroom door open so steam spreads to other rooms, and don’t turn a ventilation fan on; it will rapidly remove the warm air.

3. Lower your thermostat: A few degrees can shave 5 percent to 10 percent off your heating bill.

4. Watch that water heater. You and others likely won’t notice if you lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees from about 140 degrees.

5. Consider a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to adjust the heat on a predetermined schedule, so you can lower the heat when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping.

6. Don’t let heat escape unnecessarily. Keep your doors and windows shut when the heat is on. If you aren’t using your fireplace, be sure the flue is closed and glass doors are in place.

7. Maintenance: Electric and oil heaters should get professional attention at least once a year and gas heaters every other year. Also check to see if filters are clean.

8. Keep windows covered when it’s dark outside. This will help you reduce heat loss and keep cold air at bay, especially if you have older windows. Don’t cover those windows in the daytime, so you can get some heat from sunlight.

9. Check outside: Check the exterior of your heating unit. Avoid stacking anything against the heat pump or draping anything over it and keep it clean.

10. Candle work: Light a candle. Hold the flame near windows, doors and light fixtures and look for smoke moving in a horizontal direction. If you see it, that means you’ve spotted an air leak, and possibly escaping heat. Small leaks can be fixed with caulk.