It’s taken longer than usual this year– but it’s finally cold outside! And that means families need to start preparing for winter.
That means things like locking down home heating fuel contracts, weatherproofing windows and doors, cleaning chimneys, doing last-minute repairs on our homes, and of course, holiday shopping. Make sure to plan ahead, make a budget and do your research on companies and products before you make any major purchases.
If you use heating oil or propane to heat your home, you’ll need to enter into, or renew, your heating fuel contract, and at the same time, schedule a yearly tune up to ensure your equipment is working efficiently. Make sure you use a licensed heating fuel dealer. You can learn how to verify a license by visiting www.ct.gov/dcp/verify. Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes the start and end dates, the amount of money you’re paying, whether there is a cap on the price, the maximum number of gallons committed to your home, how the price per gallon may vary and the whether the dealer has a sufficient amount of fuel that will be available to cover all of their contracts. Many suppliers have budget payment plan offers that allow you to pay a smaller amount each month.
You also may have last-minute home repairs or chimney cleanings. Always make sure that anyone you hire to fix your home is a registered home improvement contractor. Many chimney sweeps apply for certification with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (www.csia.org) and membership in the National Chimney Sweep Guide (www.ncsg.org). Visiting their websites is also helpful for consumers. Chimney sweeping itself is not considered home improvement, but nearly all related work such as installation or repair of a chimney cap, liner repair and even mortar replacement require a home improvement registration.
In general, never hire anyone who comes to your door unannounced, always get quotes from multiple contractors, ask them for references and get recommendations from people you trust. Always make sure you have read and understand everything in a contract before you sign it.
It’s also important to make sure you have a budget set up for any repairs you may need, because you’ll have to leave room for holiday shopping!
Most shopping on the biggest shopping day, Black Friday, happens online. So, consumers need to be aware of the terms and conditions that go along with large products, and cyber security threats. First, if you purchase a large appliance or expensive electronics, you’ll want to know what the warranty says, and what happens if it breaks. Often times, your warranty won’t be with a retailer, but with the manufacturer, so always ask questions when you’re making a purchase, and keep your warranty paperwork. If you purchase gifts online, make sure you’re aware of shipping costs, and any shipping or restocking fees associated with returns.
When shopping online, be careful not to click on suspicious pop-up ads, or open unfamiliar emails – they may cause damage to your computer. If you’re visiting a website, always pay attention to the URL. Some scammers like to change familiar names to something that looks slightly different in order to get you to click on a link, or sign up for a program that steals your information. Be extra cautious this year as you shop online.
Gift cards are great presents, but if you purchase one for friends or family, make sure they know it’s better to use them sooner rather than later in case a business closes. However, under Connecticut state law, gift cards do not have an expiration date. All gift cards that are sold in Connecticut and that are not issued or backed by a federal financial institution are covered under Connecticut law.
There’s a lot we need to do to prepare for the winter season, but if you make a plan, research products and services and read your contracts and terms and conditions, there’s a better chance you’ll have an easy winter! And more successful shopping!
As always, pass this information on to family and friends and stay safe.
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.