By Jared Mendenhall
With the mercury dipping and the last leaves of summer falling, it’s time to make those final preparations for winter. We all know that getting your home and property ready for the cold requires more than just digging the snow shovel out from the garage. As you work through the pre-winter to-do list, here are a few ideas to help cut back on smog-causing emissions from your home—yes, your home.
Automobiles and large factories are commonly thought of as the sources of the emissions that create the wintertime smog, or fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution. There is, however, an often forgotten and significant contributor to air pollution called “area sources.” Area sources include small pollution emitters like dry cleaners, gas stations, and auto body paint shops. It also includes residential sources. Fireplaces, water heaters, furnaces and snow blowers all produce emissions that add to the wintertime smog. In fact, these forgotten sources contribute about 39 percent of the inversion gunk.
Properly winterizing your home is one of the easiest ways to cut down on these emissions. It will also save you money on maintenance and energy costs. Before it gets much colder, here are the tips.
STOP BURNING WOOD
There is nothing as inviting as a warm fire on a cold night. But the smoke that comes from a traditional fireplace can contribute up to 15 percent of the pollution during an inversion episode. The easiest solution, don’t burn. If you just can’t get from the fire, be sure to check air.utah.gov to ensure you aren’t burning away on a no burn day. Also, consider switching out that traditional wood-burning stove with a natural gas one.
KEEP OUT THE DRAFT
Be sure all the important spots (attics, basement, exterior walls, crawlspace, etc.) in your house are well insulated. You will see big reductions in the energy it takes to heat your home from this one important step.
Leaky windows and doors can let in cold air in and the warm air out. Drafty windows can account for up to 30 percent of your home’s heat loss. Solutions can be relatively easy and affordable. Take immediate actions by weatherstripping and caulking trouble spots. There are also old-fashioned remedies like heavy drapes and curtains that improve your home’s energy efficiency, too. Keep curtains open on the south-facing windows during the day. This will allow sunlight to heat your home naturally.
MAINTAIN YOUR FURNACE
Your home heating system is key to staying warm indoors during the coming months. A faulty or inefficient system uses extra energy and will bewilder homeowners when they just can’t seem to keep the house warm. Make sure your furnace is ready by switching out your filters on a regular basis. A clean filter ensures better airflow and greater efficiency. The same goes for the vents—keep them clean.
If you haven’t already, get a smart thermostat. A high-tech thermostat will raise and lower the temperature without any thought. This will keep the furnace from running when everyone is away. If you don’t have the money for one of these gadgets, remember to do it manually. And, of course, put on a sweater and run the furnace a few degrees cooler. After all, it’s winter.
GIVE YOUR WATER HEATER A BREAK
Give your water heater a break. Flush out the heater each year. This will help remove build-up and sediment. Your hot water heater will run more effectively, heat more water and keep that comforting shower ready each morning. You can prevent pipes from freezing and ensure faster delivery of hot water by wrapping your pipes. Also, lower your water heater temperature from 140 to 120 degrees. It is barely noticeable in the tub but could save you a ton on your utility bill. When it’s time for a new water heater, choose a low-NOx unit to further reduce emissions.
ENHANCE YOUR INDOOR AIR QUALITY!
With your home sealed up tight for winter, your indoor air quality can suffer. Take measures to protect indoor air by keeping floors and carpets clean and free of dust. Stay away from aerosols and chemical cleaning agents. And, get a houseplant or two. Pot Mums, Peace Lilys and English Ivy aid in the removal of pollutants.
BONUS TIP: TEST YOUR HOME FOR RADON
This tip has less to do with the emission you might put out into the atmosphere and more to do with a real health hazard present in as many as 1-in-3 homes in Utah—Radon.
Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. The gas is formed when naturally-occurring uranium decays into radon gas. Under ideal circumstances, the gas never poses any risks to humans as it moves up through the soil and dilutes in the fresh air. When a building is constructed on top of decaying uranium, the gas is trapped in the structure.
Testing for radon is cheap and mitigating a home with radon costs less than $2,000.