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Take small steps to keep house warmer

Keeping a room cozy can be a task that costs $20 or less or one that rolls easily into the thousands.

“It’s expensive up front, but once you do it, it pays off,” said Patty Barton from Elegant Charm, a Westmoreland County drapery firm, talking about the benefit of sewing a heavy lining in drapes to block out some cold.

Her thought seems to represent many cold-fighting jobs in a house. There are many moves that cost about $50 or less but can end up saving more.

• Ray Allen from Able Home Center in North Versailles said space heaters that emulate “electric radiators” can be purchased from $39 to $59 and “heat a good-size living room.”

• Sean Meyercheck from the Ohio Township Home Depot store said removable caulking and putty can be purchased for $5 and $6 a container, respectively, and seal off drafts in window frames.

• Many retailers mention the benefit of plastic window skins, which cost about $8, as an inexpensive storm window.

Naturally, a good source of heat seem like a logical place to start.

Heat in a box

Space heaters and stoves can provide enough heat for a room and avoid more costly projects.

Some of those more costly jobs can start out in an inexpensive way. For instance, Mike Kravas, owner of American Chimney & Fireplace in Penn Hills, said a fireplace insert can turn that hole in the wall into a fairly efficient source of heat. If a gas line already is present, an insert can be installed for $300.

But if gas lines need to be added, that cost can go into the thousands, he said.

Space heaters, some of which look like fireplaces, can provide some of that heat. A collection of wood-burning imitators at Home Depot ranges from $199 to $599 and offers a form of portable warmth.

“These heaters put out the same sort of heat,” Meyercheck said, talking about how the difference in price does not necessarily lead to a difference in heat. The look of these would-be fireplaces is what drives up the costs. “What you are paying for is ambiance.”

He said there are three main types of heaters: radiant units that sell for about $39 to $69; fan-driven ones that can be bought for as low as $10; and convection systems that are $45 to $75.

The latter, he said, work “almost like a microwave” and heat the items to be warmed rather than the air around it.

Home Center’s Allen and Randy Freedman from Latrobe True Value Hardware both are fans of the efficiency of radiator units. Freedman said these oil-filled heaters “can be used all day” without getting too hot and require little maintenance. He said that is not always the case for popular ceramic-plate units, “which get hot and stay too hot.”

The ceramic devices, which sell for about $40 to $70, have plates that are the source of heat after being charged by electricity.

Meyercheck warned that efficiency in the conveyance of heat can be as important as the heat itself. For instance, fan-driven units need more power to drive the fan and spread the heat, meaning they are not too efficient. They result in energy costs unseen for radiant or convection units.

Simple solutions

Some stay-warm items can be overlooked while some are so simple they often are forgotten.

Barton from Sutersville’s Elegant Charm said many people ignore the cold-blocking potential of winter-weight drapes. Adding a heavier, rubber-like “blackout lining” or flannel can be used to provide a shield against air seeping through a window.

She said it might cost $150 in labor above the cost of the material, but it will pay off.

Window skins are a nearly universal recommendation as are foam strips to tack around doors and windows. Freedman said foam strips can be bought for about $1.99 for a 17-foot strip. He and others also pointed to door sweeps, which cost about $8, and block air at the bottom of doorways.

Robert Brittain at 3M’s headquarters in Minnesota is pleased at the reception for the window skins, a popular 3M product. But he said some heat-savers are constantly overlooked.

For instance, fresh filters “can keep a furnace working at optimum efficiency,” he said, and keep residents a little more efficiently warm.

He also said efforts to block leaks around doors and windows sometimes overlook access panels into attics.

That warmth goes right through the roof.


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