Now that summer is a distant memory, and the fall temperatures are continuing to get cooler, homeowners across the country are thinking ahead and preparing their homes for the Winter weather that will be here before we know it.

True Value offers the following steps homeowners can take now to ensure their family’s comfort as the cold weather approaches in addition to keeping their heating bills from going through the roof.

Check for and seal foundation cracks
Look for any cracks or openings in your foundation, exterior walls and around pipes, and be sure to seal them with exterior caulk or foam insulation. Clear away leaves and other debris from the foundation to make sure you haven’t overlooked any cracks. Check the roof for problems such as broken tiles and shingles that could become a larger issue when snow comes. Clean out gutters and downspouts and make sure they’re working properly.

Inspect the chimney and fireplace
For safety reasons, you should examine your chimney each fall. Make sure it is clear of any bird or animal nests. Check to see that the flue opens and closes fully and that it can be locked in either position. You should also check to see if the chimney drafts properly by lighting a small fire and watching the smoke rise up and out. If you find that there is an obstruction, clean your chimney using special rods and brushes designed for this purpose. If your fireplace leaks air, you can cut a piece of fiberglass insulation and place it behind the fireplace doors. Just remember to remove it before building a fire. Additionally, check the brick in the fireplace for any open mortar joints. Have any open joints repaired immediately as fire can spread through open joints into the wall.

Install storm windows
Windows are a common culprit of wintertime heat loss. If you have single-pane windows, remove screens and install double- or triple-pane storm windows before winter comes. Be sure to pull down both the top and bottom storm windows to help prevent heat loss.

Check the furnace
Check the condition of your furnace in late fall. Turn off the electricity and gas, and then use a wet/dry vacuum to clean the entire burner area. Clean the thermocouple with a cloth and use a precision duster with compressed air to clean the pilot light. Replace any disposable air filters and clean washable ones with mild detergent and water. Clean fan blades with a brush and lubricate the fan shaft. If the motor has oiling ports, apply a few drops of heavy-duty electric motor oil. Be sure not to over-oil your furnace and never use automotive motor oil or 3-in-1 household oil.

Winterize your water heater
Because water heaters can be inefficient, it is important to insulate your hot water tank with a water heater blanket. Also, check the water temperature of your water heater. A good energy-efficient temperature is around 120 degrees. It's never a good idea to turn off your water heater completely if you will be away from home for an extended period of time. Instead, turn the water heater's thermostat to the "vacation" setting or a similar low setting. The pilot light will remain lit, maintaining a slightly warm water temperature within the unit until you return.

Insulate exposed piping
Using a pipe insulation kit to add insulation around accessible water pipes will save you energy, lower your heating bills and prevent pipes from freezing during the winter months. Look for water pipes that pass through spaces where cold drafts are likely, such as crawl spaces, garages and attics. Check the pipe leading directly from the hot water heater and don't ignore hot water lines. Though slower to freeze, they are more likely to burst than cold-water lines. Make sure the pipe insulation kit you choose includes adhesive tape or contact cement for sealing. The most common pipe insulation is a tubular foam sleeve slit lengthwise. Tubes without slits are designed for installation over new piping, but they can easily be slit with a sharp utility knife. Open the pipe insulation along the slit, press it onto the pipe, and seal it with adhesive tape or contact cement to prevent summertime condensation.

Additional ways to warm your home
There are more easy ways to make and keep your home warm in the winter. By simply reversing the spin of your ceiling fans and setting them on low speed, you'll send warm air down into your living space. In winter, your fans should spin in a counter-clockwise direction. Most fans have a small switch to set the spin direction. If yours doesn't, you may want to upgrade to a new energy-efficient ceiling fan. Using your ceiling fans to circulate warm air in the winter saves money and keeps your furnace from having to work as hard.

Keeping blinds and curtains open on sunny days will naturally warm up any room. Closing them at night will help keep the heat in and the chill out. Save costs and concentrate warmth in your home by only heating rooms you use. If your heating system has vents, close the ones in unused areas of your home. Use a humidifier—just adding moisture to the air will make your home feel warmer. And as an added bonus, humidifiers also cut down on carpet shocks from dry static electricity.

(c) RISMEDIA, Paige Tepping