SALT LAKE CITY — As the mercury begins to dip week by week, it will not be long before Old Man Winter wraps his frosty arms around the Beehive State.
With snow already at higher elevations, it's not too late to start getting ready for the inevitability of winter in Utah, and that means people must prepare their vehicles, their homes and themselves for the cold.
A few well-placed preparations will save money and hardship in the coming months.
At home, little things such as insulating wall sockets, changing regular bulbs to compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs, insulating windows and wrapping up water heaters can lead to savings on energy bills. Installing added insulation can save the average homeowner $50 to $100 per year, according to Questar Gas.
Also, insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so the water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent possible, weatherproof the home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows or thermal-pane windows.
Those who plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating need to have their chimneys or flues inspected each year to detect any buildup of soot. That can prevent a house fire. Also, those using a fireplace, wood stove or kerosene heater should install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. They should be tested monthly, and the batteries should be replaced twice a year.
"Get your furnace tuned up so that it's working at its peak efficiency," added Robert West, Home Depot sales specialist. "And change your furnace filter often — every three months."
Applying "shrink wrap" around windows will also provide a low-cost method of insulation, West said.
"It still effectively helps (on energy savings)," he said. "Anything you can add on is that much better."
Attic insulation also is an effective way to lower energy costs, West said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, leaving older people more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. For those over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where it can be seen frequently, and check the temperature of the home often during winter months.
For those with pets, the CDC advises owners to bring them indoors, if possible. Those who cannot bring them inside should provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure that they have access to unfrozen water.
Those who need to shovel or push snow may consider purchasing a working snowblower. Used snowblowers are also an option with tune-ups for snowblowers typically ranging from $50 to $100.
West recommends keeping a supply of "snow melt" or rock salt to keep driveways and walkways clear.
"You have to be careful because salt can ruin shrubbery where snow melt typically doesn't," he said, noting that too much salt can also damage concrete.
During winter, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Also, replace any worn tires and check the air pressure in the tires.
"Every 10 degrees the temperature drops, a tire will lose 1 to 2 pounds of air," said Derek Edwards, sales manager for Big O Tires in Sandy. "As it gets colder, tire pressure is constantly dropping, so consumers will want to make sure to inflate tires to the proper air pressure and check them every other week."
Overinflated or underinflated tires can have a potentially dangerous impact on a vehicle's handling, Edwards said. And that can lead to crashes and costly repairs.
"You want as much tire surface touching the road as possible," he said.
Some drivers may choose to switch to snow tires in the winter, Edwards said, which do provide better traction in wet or snowy conditions. But having well-maintained tires with good treads is important if snow tires are not an option.
Wiper blades and batteries also are key items to have in good working order during the winter months, he said.
In addition, every fall, have the radiator system serviced or check the antifreeze level with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze as needed, and replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture. It's simple prevention that can be a life-saver.
Being able to manage expenses in winter can be a challenge for many individuals and families. The best way to handle costs is to follow a budget year-round, said Jerry Van Os, associate dean of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College.
"You can (often) anticipate what your higher expenses are, like electricity and natural gas costs," Van Os said. Arranging "budget billing" with utilities could help spread costs over the entire year and prevent large spikes that can occur in winter, he said.
Most utilities offer plans that allow customers who have 12 months of billing history to pay the same amount each month. The calculation is usually made by dividing the total of the prior 12 months' charges into 12 equal billing payments, including an adjustment for rate increases. Such plans can aid families in better managing their monthly expenses, Van Os explained.
"It spreads the cost over time, and you're not paying really exorbitant amounts during the peak periods," he said. "It provides for better planning purposes."
Van Os recommended putting aside money for unexpected expenses, if possible. Paying for something like a furnace repair can be costly, and having some funds set aside for such things can prevent increasing debt.
"If you anticipate something like routine maintenance in your budget … you make sure that you anticipate before you have to react," he said.
For more information, visit the CDC website on preparing for winter weather.