With winter temperatures already here, some local contractors are advising some simple steps to winterizing homes and apartments.

According to local contractor Bill Wilt, cold, drafty houses are usually the result of either inadequate insulation or air leakage at the windows and doors.

Poorly winterized homes can lead to higher utility bills and, in extreme cases, frozen and broken pipes.

To seal air leaks at windows and doors, Wilt advises applying caulk both inside and out.

As window units age, the glass panes can actually separate from the frames, leading to air leaks, he said.

For extra protection, shrink wrap can be taped to windows from the inside and tightened with a hair dryer. Most hardware stores sell shrink-wrap kits for about $3 a window, but homeowners can buy the product separately to save extra money.

For the ultimate in protection, Wilt said replacing old window units with new double-insulated windows will cost homeowners about $200 a window, but it will help retain heat dramatically and last for years.

In addition, use of weather strips around doors and kickboards will also help seal-in heat on cold, windy days.

For insulation, Wilt said that fiberglass insulation can easily be added to the attics of most houses. While insulating walls and floors may be a little more difficult, it will add to the house's R-Value.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, R-Value refers to insulation and its resistance to the flow of heat.

Typical R-Values for wood framed homes are R-30 for ceilings, R-11 for walls and R-19 for floors.

While most insulating materials have different R-Values per inch, homeowners can estimate how their house stacks-up by measuring the amount of fiberglass insulation present.

R-30 should equal about nine inches of insulation, R-11 equals about 3.5 inches and R-19 should equal about six inches.

While most new homes meet the standard, Wilt said older home, built in the '30s and '40s, often don't have any insulation at all.

For safety, homeowners are advised to use skin, eye and breathing protection while working with fiberglass insulation as it can irritate eyes and skin. If inhaled, it can cause serious lung damage.

Outside the house, Wilt said minor precautions can be taken to protect your home's plumbing.

First, cover your water spigots with clamp-on, plastic-foam covers, which can be purchased at any hardware store for about $2.

In a pinch, Wilt said wrapping them in insulating tape will work just as well.

Also, he said homeowners should turn off their water and hot-water heaters when they leave for extended periods of time in cold weather. This prevents pipes from freezing.

Besides sealing and insulating, it is also important to make sure heating plants are working properly.

According to professional chimney sweeper Chris Smith of Falkville, homeowners should have their fire places, furnaces and heaters inspected by a certified professional once a year.

Inspections usually cost about $50 to $60 for most types of heaters, more if cleaning or repair is necessary.

For wood burning units, Smith said chimney cleaning is usually necessary once a year.

Putting off cleaning can result in the hardening of creosote, a bi-product of burned wood, in the chimney, which can ruin your chimney, Smith said.

He warned not to burn soft or green wood in your any fireplace or wood stove, as it causes a faster build-up of creosote.

Other problems to look for are cracks in the chimney and smoke backing up in the house.

In addition, he said never to use any fuel burning device without carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

"A second piece of the puzzle we don't want to lose sight of is patient satisfaction," Weidner said. "The good news is this hospital had been measured and compared to other hospitals within Baptist Health Systems and routinely ranked No. 1 in patient satisfaction. We are now comparing ourselves to a much broader base of hospitals with the ultimate goal of meeting our mission of becoming the best community hospital in the Southeast and I am happy to report that we are well on our way."

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