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With the unseasonably warm weather in much of the country, it's easy to forget that if it's cold where you live in winter, it will be cold again.

While new homes today are designed to be a lot more energy efficient than homes build in prior decades, whether your home is new or old it still pays to look around to see if there are additional ways to save energy.

In California, where energy shortages grabbed headlines over the past year, energy conservation is a major concern. The California Energy Commission offers a checklist to help people winterize. Among the suggestions:

  • Get your heating system inspected to make sure it's in good working order.

    Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping, and caulk any holes that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors seal properly.

  • If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones.
  • Seal or weather strip around all ducts, wires or pipes that penetrate the wall, ceiling or floor.
  • Close the damper on your fireplace when it's not in use.
  • Make sure you have enough insulation for the area in which you live. Get to know your R-values.

The web site StartRemodeling.com offers some additional tips from the Insurance Information Institute and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

  • Trim trees near your home to remove branches that could fall from the weight of snow or ice.
  • Clean your gutters to prevent water from collecting and freezing.
  • Make sure no leaves clog your chimney.
  • Learn how to shut off your water in the event your pipes freeze or you need to call a plumber quickly.
  • Take care if you're going to be away from home. Keep the thermostat set on at least 65 degrees to keep pipes from freezing. If you'll be away for a long period of time, have a professional drain the pipes before you leave.

There are also some common sense things you should be thinking about.

Given the many issues raised during the past few months with homeland security, it makes sense to be prepared both for winter as well as the possibility of an emergency situation.

So, are you prepared in the event of an emergency? Do you have an alternate heat source and enough food and water to get by if you lose power for a while? Do you have a battery-operated radio so you can listen for weather and emergency information? And, are the batteries still working?

Do you have a shovel, snow blower or environmentally-safe chemical ice melt compound to let you navigate outside your house?

Have you checked those carbon monoxide detectors lately to make sure they're working? You do have them, right?

Whether your house is new or old, the holidays bring their own special safety concerns. For the latest on holiday decoration safety tips and ways to avoid fires and injuries, check out the news from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision. The CPSC offers specific hints regarding how to take care of Christmas trees, indoor and outdoor holiday lights, decorations and fireplaces.

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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