I was in Lowes recently buying some new mums and pumpkins.  Every time I turned the corner, I ran into another “Never Stop Improving” sign, slogan, button or badge.  I mean, these people have got some mad marketing skills!  It made me think.  I was just there to buy some pretty things for my porch, but surely that counts as an improvement, no?  Improving doesn’t have to drain the bank account, does it?  It doesn’t always mean exotic hardwood floors or the newest marble countertop.  I realized that even the smallest improvements (the mums I bought were gorgeous!) can make a big difference, both in the appearance of my home and the pleasure I get from living there. 

I also realized that this is a perfect time of year to make improvements to our home maintenance plans. Okay, show of hands.  How many readers cringed when I mentioned home and maintenance in the same sentence?  How many of us think that calling the plumber/electrician/HVAC guy when something breaks is a maintenance plan?  I think if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all know that maintaining our homes – usually our biggest investment and our most cherished possession – takes some forethought and follow through.  What we need is a great big “to-do” list that we can check off slowly, but surely before the cold weather is here to stay.
Hopefully you’re still reading, because “winterizing” your home is not only a smart way to save energy costs, it’s insurance against costly repair bills.  This week, I’ll write about interior improvements and next week, we’ll tackle the outside… just in time for all that company you’ll have over for Thanksgiving to get out there and help!
1. Caulk trim and baseboards.  The best way to determine where air is leaking into and out of your home is to moisten your hand and then run it along the baseboards of exterior walls.  If it feels like someone is blowing on your hand through a straw,  you've found a place to caulk.  It may not seem like much, but a 10 inch gap letting in frigid air for an entire winter adds up to an entire 30 degree day of leaving your door wide open.  My buddies at Lowes will be happy to sell you a tube of clear, acrylic caulk for under $20, but the savings from this simple improvement could be ten times that.
2. Inspect your doors. The US Department of Energy predicts that 35% of air leakage in a home comes from gaps in doors.  If you have a storm door, make sure that it closes soundly. If possible, adjust the metal strike plate to ensure a night tight fit.  Door sweeps (those long metal or rubber extensions that close the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor) should be inspected and replaced if worn.  If you still feel a draft, add stick-on weather stripping around the edges for a better fit.
3. Ready the windows. Make sure your windows are locked to ensure that the top and bottom panel  have formed a tight seal.  If you have older windows or patio doors that you don't open, apply clear weather stripping tape along the edges
4. Tend to the fireplace. After arranging for a good cleaning, be sure close the flue after each and every use (but make sure the fire is totally banked and cooled!).  Even with a closed flue, a fire place is still a heat loss point, so consider having a glass door installed with vents at the bottom. 
5. Check heating systems. In addition to checking duct work in basements and attics, consider having your ducts cleaned professionally. In fact, this improvement is really best left to the professionals, who should give your heating system a good annual tune up.  Typically a tune up is only $75 – $100 and should ward off middle of the night emergencies.  Also consider installing an energy efficient programmable thermostat.  Energy experts say you'll recoup the cost of the thermostat in one year.
5.  Ready water systems.  This is an easy check and an easy improvement that can make a huge difference in your energy bills.  If your hot water tank is set at more than 120 degrees, turn it down!  This simple fix can save 6 – 10% on your water-heating costs.  Many people buy a blanket for their hot water heaters, but this really only makes sense if your heater is more than 15 years old.  Do check that pipes running from your hot water heater have a nice seal and wrap them with foam, if not.  If you have pipes that are prone to freezing, an investment in a freeze alarm is a great idea. 
Happy home improving! Stay tuned for outdoor improvements in next week's post…