5 tips to keep your home warm, cozy and protected this winter

(BPT) – Winter is a harsh and cold season that can be terribly straining on homes, causing costly and inconvenient breakdowns, especially to plumbing and heating systems.

Home experts recommend homeowners pay attention to the little things to avoid bigger problems from developing. Taking simple steps, such as having your systems serviced each season, can help safeguard appliances and systems and keep them running at optimal performance.

‘Unfortunately, appliances and systems often break down when they are needed the most,’ says Dave Quandt, vice president of field services American Home Shield, a ServiceMaster (NYSE: SERV) company and the largest provider of home warranties in the nation. ‘In 2015, our contractors and technicians completed more than 350,000 heating-related service calls, and we know the big impact that even small things can have when it comes to protecting your home.’

To help protect your home this winter, follow these tips from the pros at American Home Shield:

Check, then cook: Planning on baking cookies or making homemade bread for some cold weather comfort? First, check to make sure your oven is not losing heat. If the oven door doesn’t seal properly, it could be losing more than 70 percent of its heat. Inspect the seal for breaks, tears or abnormalities and look for possible leaks. If you spot a problem, replace the seal; these are available for purchase at most home improvement stores.

Unblock and save: Over time, homeowners often add or rearrange furniture without thinking about how it affects airflow. Take a walk through your home and make sure there is at least an inch or two’s worth of clearance in front of every air vent. Blocking vents can cost you more money as you are likely to crank up the heat to compensate, which causes your furnace to work even harder.

Let your thermostat do the work: Many homeowners assume they know how to use their thermostat, but often there is much more it can do. Some thermostats can actually learn homeowners’ preferences and automatically adjust to save energy. Architect and home lifestyle blogger Ronique Gibson of Stagetecture encourages homeowners to take time to educate themselves on how to properly use their thermostat. Check out more of her tips for homeowners this winter season on her blog, www.Stagetecture.com.

Don’t forget your dryer: Tossing towels and blankets in the dryer to warm up on frigid days? Make sure your dryer isn’t clogged first. A clogged dryer exhaust is not only inefficient, it’s also a dangerous fire hazard. In most cases, all it takes to clean it is loosening the clamp to the exhaust and then gently pulling it off the back of the dryer. A vacuum attachment should be able to remove the lint and clear the vent.

Trust the pros: During the colder months, your heating system or furnace can run double duty trying to compete with outdoor temperatures, so make sure to have your unit professionally serviced to ensure it is working up to its potential. Also, consider a home warranty plan to help protect against unexpected costs associated with breakdowns and repairs. Visit AHS.com to find the right warranty for your home.