Did you know that there is only one state in the US that has never had the temperature fall below zero? It’s Hawaii…and sadly, we don’t live there. As such it’s important to remember there are certain measures that ought to be taken to protect your home (and your family) from the quickly approaching winter weather. Here are 10 tips (plus a few more) on things you should do to winterize your home.
1.) Before the winds whip too hard and the chill in the air becomes unbearable, get out the ladder and check those gutters. Remove debris such as leaves, twigs and the neighbors Frisbee to allow the winter’s rain and melting snow to properly drain. Use a hose to spray water in the down spouts to clear them as well. A cleared gutter will help prevent ice dams, in which water backs up, freezes and can force water into the house. Feeling like this chore is too daunting? Consider having leaf guards installed to make this time consuming project a quick little task in the future.
2.) While you’re up there on that ladder, take a moment to look at the chimney. Ensure that a durable chimney cap is installed, preferably one with a screen. This not only helps to keep out critters, but also moisture that can mix with ash which acts like a paste that will eat away at a fireplace’s interior lining. On the subject of fireplaces, have a qualified chimney/fireplace professional inspect the fireplace before use. Have the chimney swept if the build up of soot and creosote warrants. If you have a woodstove, plan on having it swept. Woodstoves should be swept at least once a year, if not more. Make sure you’ve got a ready supply of firewood and store it in a dry area away from the house. When you’re not using your fireplace, keep the chimney damper closed to keep cold air out.
3.) Discourage small animals and insects from calling your home THEIR home. Rake away debris and vegetation from the foundation and look for leaks and cracks that need to be caulked and sealed (for brick homes, use masonry sealer). Seal up any possible entry points, look around pipes and window frames. Mice can slip through spaces as thin as a dime. Consider covering window wells with a plastic cover and secure crawlspace entrances. These measures will help the efficiency of your homes heating system as well.
4.) To check for leaks and drafts on the inside of your home, walk a lit stick of incense through your home on a breezy day and see where the smoke wavers. The usual suspects for drafty areas are window and door frames, electrical outlets and recessed lighting. Caulk or apply tacky rope to those drafty spots and buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors. Use weatherstripping around doors to prevent cold air from entering the home and caulk windows. If you have storm windows, install them. If not, consider buying window insulator kits to keep drafty windows from giving you the chills.
5.) Reverse your ceiling fans. Warm air rises, right? Reversing the fans rotation pushes the warm air down from the ceiling, helping to keep you more comfortable. How do you know if the blades are going the right way for winter? When you look up, the blades should move in a clockwise direction.
6.) Don’t get caught in the cold! Call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and ensure that it’s running smoothly and will continue to do so through the winter months. Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly (many high efficiency furnaces use filters that need be only changed or cleaned every 6 months to a year…your HVAC person can check this as well).
7.) Prevent plumbing freezes. The last thing you need is a swimming pool in the middle of winter. To keep pipes from freezing (and possibly bursting), drain and disconnect all garden hoses, then, as an extra precaution, insulate the individual hose spigots. If you are capable, drain and blowout the sprinkler linesas well. Call a sprinkler company if you are unsure how to do this. For a small fee (usually $75-$100) they will do the whole sprinkler winterization for you and be sure its done right. Find and insulate any other pipes that aren’t already insulated or that pass through unheated spaces. Locate the main water turn-off in your home and clearly label it…just in case. And if you go on vacation, leave the heat on and set to at least 55 degrees.
8.) Tune-up all winter specific equiptment, and properly store summer equipment. After the final mow of the season, drain the leftover gasfrom the mowers and trimmers. Clean and store gardening tools including mulchers, aerators, etc. Have snow blowers serviced for proper working order. Unpack any shovels and picks, and buy a supply of ice melt or sand.
9.) In case of power outages or severe storms that may leave you stranded, prepare an emergency kit. In a single location, keep a supply of candles and a lighter, a flashlight, extra batteries of various sizes, bottled water and a sufficient supply of non-perishable foods (don’t forget pet food!). Have a list of emergency contact and utility company numbers handy. Also, remember to prepare your vehicle. In your truck store an ice scraper, windshield washer fluid, a small broom, blanket, spare hat & gloves, flares, first-aide kit, gallon of water and a sand bag for extra weight.
10.) Fire, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide, OH MY!!! Get those detectors up to snuff. Buy a few fire extinguishers. Store one in the kitchen, one in each room there’s a fire place, and one in a central location on each floor of your home. Test smoke alarms, replace batteries as needed, and if the detector is over 10 years old, consider replacing with a new unit. If you don’t already have a carbon monoxide detector, buy one and install it near your furnace and water heater.
Some other things you may want to consider… Lift bulbs that can’t withstand freezing temperatures from the garden and store until ready to re-plant in spring. Move sensitive potted plants indoors. Trim back branchesthat hang too close to house or electrical wires, they can be a real hazard once the weight of snow piles on. Consider adding insulation in the attic, 12 inches minimum is standard. Do NOT use the insulation with paper backing, it acts as a vapor barrier and can cause moisture problems in insulation. This can also help prevent ice dams, in addition to obviously being more energy efficient. Consider having your air ducts cleaned and sealed; with the furnace running and the house all closed up, airborne dust, animal hair and other gunk can be a real problem on the respiratory system.
These tips and a love for comfort foods will ensure you a happy, warm and most importantly, SAFE winter season. Wishing you all the best…
*Several tips were adapted from the following websites: http://homebuying.about.com/od/buyingahome/qt/92607_WinterHom.htm?p=1 and http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13107899