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Planning can make winter bills less expensive

November 20, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - While snowbirds nurse their winter blues with one-way trips south, insulation, inspections and some planning can make the cold, dark days a little safer and less expensive for those who stay here.

According to Allen Staggers, manager of corporate communications for Allegheny Energy Inc., residents who want to save money on their heating bills can invest in insulation and turn down the heat on their water heaters.

"The main thing for preparing your home for winter is to make sure your home is well-insulated and (make) sure air escapes are corrected," Staggers said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends motorists check their vehicles' fluid levels and tire pressure, and prepare emergency kits for homes and vehicles before winter.

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According to a Web site maintained by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, temperatures have dipped below freezing about a dozen times this fall. The 2006 Hagers-town Town and Country Almanack predicts snow or rain much of this week and cool or cold weather through the end of the month. It also calls for snow or rain through much of December.

Though Sunday's low was near freezing, winter does not start until the evening of Dec. 21.

Fire prevention officer Mike Weller of the Hagerstown Fire Department said he worries as temperatures start to fall about people taking unsafe steps to stay warm.

"I always become fearful when the oil prices and the home-heating fuel prices are rising because already we've seen people taking desperate measures to stay warm," Weller said.

Chimneys, wood stoves and portable heaters should be inspected and cleaned before they are used for the winter season. Portable heaters and stoves should not be used as primary heat sources or when people are sleeping. Combustibles should be kept away from portable heaters, Weller said.

Any device that uses fossil fuels creates carbon monoxide, and Weller said people who burn fuels such as natural gas, kerosene, oil or wood should place carbon-monoxide detectors outside at least one bedroom of their homes.

Though Staggers recommends insulating homes, Weller cautioned residents against using products such as plastic sheeting to cover windows, which might be needed for escape if a fire starts.

By opening window drapes when the sun is out, and closing drapes when night comes, Staggers said people can conserve energy costs.

Weller also warned against using candles and extension cords.

Even with winter's coldest, darkest days ahead, some area residents can begin preparing for greener times. Between now and the first hard freeze, gardeners can mound mulch around fragile plants, such as roses and new shrubbery and trees, and plant bulbs for spring, said Annette Ipsan, a horticulture extension educator for the Maryland Cooperative Extension- Washington County.

According to Ipsan, the most important prewinter activity is watering, which should be done in the daylight so the water can soak into the soil.

Ipsan said the ground usually does not freeze solid until after Thanksgiving.

"Of course, Mother Nature has her own timetables," she said.




Need heating help?



Residents who need help paying their home heating bills or who need smoke detectors or safety tips may call fire prevention officer Mike Weller of the Hagerstown Fire Department at 301-739-8577, ext. 415.

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