While the weather may still feel like summer, the chill of winter is just a few short months away. It’s time to think about winterizing your home. Getting your home ready for winter will not only keep you warmer but also put money in your pocket. The routine maintenance that makes your home cozier in the cold pays off year-round by boosting your home’s energy efficiency.
Start at your furnace. When was the last time you had it inspected? Some state utilities offer free yearly furnace check-ups. A well-maintained furnace will run more efficiently, pump out cleaner air, and save you money on heating oil or electricity.
Change or clean your furnace filters regularly. Disposable furnace filters are less efficient, but much more affordable, than new permanent electrostatic filters. Your budget and your furnace’s life-cycle are your best guides here on what to use.
Clean the ductwork. With the furnace taken care of, turn to your ductwork and vents. Keeping this system sealed and insulated in a big money-saver. Check for cracks and leaks in every part of the system. Patch and fill any gaps, especially in the common places where leaks tend to form, like connections at vents and registers. This is a great time to reassess the insulation in attics, too.
Does your home have a fireplace? They’re so cozy on a snowy winter night! But they aren’t exactly efficient. A wood-burning fireplace is lovely, but an energy-efficient wood stove or a gas fireplace insert might make more sense. In any case, keep your chimney clean! A sooty chimney is a common cause of house fires and easily avoided with preventive maintenance. If your fireplace isn’t used often, install glass doors and keep the flue shut – don’t let all that expensive warm air whoosh right up your chimney!
Check the plumbing. Now that you’ve seen to the furnace, ventilation system, and fireplace, turn to the plumbing. It’s easy to winterize your pipes – make sure they’re well-insulated with foam wrap or heating tape. Flush water from lawn sprinkler systems with compressed air. Turn off your water at the main and turn on all your outside faucets, allowing any water that has pooled in your pipes to drain. This will prevent expensive damage from frozen pipes. This is also a great time to address those annoying drips and leaks. A roll of Teflon tape and a pipe wrench will save you hundreds of dollars down the line.
Doors & windows. Congratulations! Now you’ve done the hard stuff! On to the detail work. Check your doors and windows, replacing weather stripping and caulking leaks as needed. A good tight seal keeps warm air in and cold air out. Consider upgrading to storm doors and better-insulating windows. If you have a gap beneath a door too wide to close with weather-stripping, simply rolling up a thick towel and wedging it in the gap will help keep the warm air where you want it. Plastic sheeting and sealing tape can be a great and inexpensive way to cover larger leaks until a permanent solution can be put in place.
One more thing: Next, turn down your thermostat and your hot water heater. You’ll never notice the few degrees difference, but your utility bills will sure reflect your thriftiness.
Speaking of thriftiness, making your home more energy-efficient might also qualify you for a tax credit! Check if any state incentives are available to you. There also are federal tax incentives available for upgrading to a more efficient heating system:
Winter, as they say, is coming. So take some preventative steps to stay warm, pocket the savings, grab a hot beverage, and then… maybe put on a sweater.
Many of our Massachusetts neighbors experienced a terrible crisis last night, complete with gas explosions, fires and mass evacuations. We’ve compiled a few resources and links that might be of help.
MA Red Cross: American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Also see: Get Help Now and Find Open Shelters If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call the Red Cross at (800) 564-1234. This hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Gas Utility: Columbia Gas MA
Lawrence MA: Lawrence MA Emergency Alert – info on evacuations & shelter
North Andover MA:North Andover MA Columbia Gas Leak Information
Andover MA: Andover MA Gas Leak Updates
Twitter is often a quick way to get emergency updates. Here are some relevant Twitter links:
- MEMA Twitter
- Columbia Gas MA
- Lawrence MA Twitter
- Lawrence MA Police Twitter
- Lawrence MA Department of Public Works Twitter
- Town of Andover MA Twitter
- Andover MA Police Department Twitter
- North Andover Twitter
If you need to file an insurance claim, contact your local independent insurance agent.
For your convenience, here’s a list of many of the top insurance companies with links to their online claim reporting resources.
All eyes are on the eastern seaboard as Hurricane Florence bears down upon southern states. As of right now, forecasters don’t expect any direct impact on New England, but we’re all watching North Carolina and South Carolina, where widespread mandatory evacuations are in place, the largest peace time evacuation the country has seen. This is predicted to be a multiple-day prolonged flooding event with 12-foot storm surge. See the fascinating infographic on storm surges below, courtesy of CoreLogic.
If you have friends or relatives in affected areas or are just a storm tracker, here are a few resources: Tracking Hurricane Florence: The Weather Channel • Twitter • New York Times
The National Weather Service: Hurricane and Tropical Storm Watches, Warnings, Advisories and Outlooks • Hurricane Preparedness • Red Cross: Hurricane Safety
While New England folks may dodge this bullet, remember that hurricane season lasts from June through November.
Fraudsters spend all their waking hours concocting new and creative ways to separate you from your money. Even very smart people can be conned by smart criminals. It helps to be aware of common scams and get tips from experts on how to avoid them. Here’s a roundup of some recent scams that have hit our radar.
“It’s a nightmare scenario for any homebuyer: the day before closing, a scammer manages to trick you into wiring your down payment to an offshore account. You lose your hard-earned money and you lose the house, and there’s no way you can get either one back.
That’s how some criminals have adapted the common “business email compromise” scam – so-named because it used to almost exclusively target businesses – to focus on individuals, especially people who are involved in a pending real estate transaction.”
“Hackers are increasingly attempting to extort companies and individuals by threatening severe reputational harm through online reviews sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, security experts tell The Hill.”
While internet extortion schemes are not new, their perpetrators now appear to be spamming sites where enough negative reviews can scare away firms’ customers.
“It is definitely an increase that we see — that more and more hackers are misusing the whole brand reputation and any type of review process to blackmail and extort companies,” Candid Wueest, a Symantec threat researcher based in Europe, told The Hill. “Of course the same would be harmful for anyone who has an online profile such as hotels — we’ve seen it with restaurants as well, like TripAdvisor or Yelp.”
“In a new report, the Better Business Bureau warns that regular checks, cashier’s checks, and money orders can all be forged. They found fake check fraud in reports “about employment frauds, sweepstakes frauds and smaller numbers in areas such as bogus grants, tech support, online purchase fraud, and rental frauds.”
“What they all have in common is that the check is counterfeit and just because the money is credited to your account does not mean the check is good,” Baker said.
… “If you get a check from somebody that is not a family member or in person or is not a payroll check, you need to wait at least two weeks to be sure that that check really is good and is not counterfeit,” Baker said.
Jobseeker scam: Phony Amazon Job Asks Applicants to Pay Upfront
It sounds like the perfect job: work at home, make thousands of dollars a month, and have a career with famous corporation. But this new twist on an employment scam is fooling victims into paying hundreds of dollars for a job at Amazon that doesn’t exist. Reports to BBB Scam Tracker about this con have increased steadily this summer.
“I.R.S. scams, as well as other telefraud scams, are conducted by multiple groups and individuals operating out of India, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Jamaica and other countries,” said Nicole Navas Oxman, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. “While this prosecution is a major success in disrupting the largest group of conspirators operating out of multiple call centers identified to date, other perpetrators of the IRS scam and similar scams remain at large.”
Fraud fighting tool from the BBB
The Better Business Bureau offers an online Scam Tracker that allows you to find out recent scams that are happening in your local area. Use a clickable map to find scams in your area that are occurring in real time. You can click for details of the scam, the business name that the scammer used, the victim’s zip code and the dollar amount of the loss. You can also report scams to help others out.
Are you approaching Labor Day weekend without any scheduled plans? Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to find things in driving distance right here in New England … from country fairs and music festivals to coastal beaches and inland parks. We’re expecting relief from the extreme heat over the holiday weekend. There should be quite a cool off, but the heat may return early next week. And if you are taking to the road, be aware that gas prices are on the high side: Labor Day gas prices hit 4-year high — and probably won’t drop much after the holiday.
Remember, Labor Day is only the symbolic end of summer – we don’t officially move into the autumn until September 22! If you can’t fit all these ideas and activities in this weekend, you have a few more weeks to try before leaf-peeping season starts.