Second of two parts Before you settle in for winter, here are a few steps to take to ensure a warm, dry, safe place to nest. (Just in case you...

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Second of two parts

Before you settle in for winter, here are a few steps to take to ensure a warm, dry, safe place to nest.

(Just in case you missed last week’s tips on weatherizing the outside of your home, the information is available online at “Venture outside to weatherize for winter“.)

Fireside chat

Have your chimney and fireplace inspected and cleaned professionally before attempting to use it for the season. Over time, creosote can build in the flue and become a hazard.

You also want to check the exterior portion of the chimney from the top down.

The spark arrestor, the part that prevents sparks and embers from escaping through the top, is particularly vulnerable to damage from birds and weather.

If the spark arrestor or chimney is damaged, be sure to make repairs before using your fireplace.

Heater inspection

We’re always about doing things yourself, but it’s usually a good idea to get a professional to check your furnace before the weather gets too cold. You will want to be sure everything is functional and safe. After all, you don’t want your furnace giving out on the coldest night of the year.

A typical inspection should include checking the following:

• The thermostat, for proper operation and function.

• The air filter. It will need to be changed or cleaned.

• The electrical components and controls.

• The heat exchanger, for possible cracks. (Insist on this, as cracks in the heat exchanger are where carbon monoxide can enter your home.)

• Your home’s air flow.

If necessary, the inspector will also oil the heater’s mechanical equipment.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, the person you hire works for you!

Heater DIY

Not everything has to be left to the pro. There are a few things you can do to ensure the safety and efficiency of the heating unit.

The most important to-do is to ensure nothing flammable is stored next to the heating unit. Also, clear clutter from vents and radiators. Making room for the heater will allow it to function at its best.

Change or clean the furnace’s filters regularly. Clean filters will improve the air flow and heating efficiency throughout your home. Disposable fiberglass filters should be replaced, while electrostatic or electronic filters should be washed regularly, at least once a season.

Dirty filters not only reduce your heater’s efficiency but can eventually lead the heat exchanger to overheat, causing the whole system to fail.

Changing the filters on most modern units is as easy as changing a roll of toilet paper.

Hot tips

Many common heating problems are easy to remedy. Here are a couple of areas to check:

• Secure all access panels.

• Make sure your thermostat is set in the heating mode. Believe us, this is an easy one to forget. Just setting the dial above room temperature will not turn the heat on if the control is set on air-conditioning mode!

• Don’t ignore strange smells. That said, it is normal for dust and hair to collect on the heat exchanger over the summer, so the first time you turn it on, all of the hair and dust will burn, resulting in a strong odor. Open your windows to let the odor dissipate. However, if strange odors continue to come from the heater, shut it off and consult a professional.

• Adjust dampers. “Cold spots” can be reduced by aiming the dampers toward the problem area. A clogged or broken damper can be easily replaced for a few dollars.

Become a fan of fans

One of the best heat distributors might be over your head. While you may think of ceiling fans as strictly for warmer weather, they can benefit your home during the winter as well.

With the blades adjusted (most models have a switch that changes this setting), ceiling fans will push hot air downward. A ceiling fan can lower heating costs and reduce condensation on windows.

If you do not have a ceiling fan, consider installing one for year-round benefits. Winter is off season for most ceiling-fan retailers, so look for sales.

Water-heater tip

Keep the hot water flowing by checking the water-heater tank.

A buildup of sediment at the tank’s base can reduce a water heater’s efficiency. When possible, remove the sediment by draining your tank.

Floor warmers

Nobody likes to step on a cold floor with bare feet. Save yourself from the chill by warming the floor.

You can do this two ways:

1. Install a radiant heat floor system. There are two types of radiant heat floors: the electric cable system and the hot water tubing system. With the latter system, hot water is fed through tubing under the floor. Radiant heat is favored by some, because it warms people and objects rather than the air. This avoids the “drying out” effect you get with most forced-air systems.

An electric cable system is the easiest option for adding radiant floors to individual rooms. The system usually consists of heat pads or cables that sit under the flooring. Talk with an electrical contractor before tearing up your old floors. You’ll need a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and possibly a dedicated circuit. The final hook-up should be done by an electrician.

You can find radiant floor systems through electrical equipment retailers and some home centers.

2. Roll out the area rugs. If the radiant heat floor is out of your budget or you just want to avoid replacing the flooring, invest in a high-quality area rug. Today’s area rugs come in a variety of colors, patterns and materials that will coordinate with any décor.

Before you head to the store, measure the area to be covered. Having the dimensions in hand will make shopping easier. Be sure to pick up a no-slip pad to go under the rug.

Be Jane is a monthly home-improvement feature in digs. It’s adapted from, the online community created by Heidi Baker and Eden Jarrin.