winterizing your home

Winterizing Your Home

Preparing For Winter’s Chill

As the mercury dips toward the lower end of the thermometer, homeowners should be considering the stormy winter months ahead. There are things we can—and certainly should—do to protect our homes from winter’s fury. Good planning also helps reduce the costs of maintenance and utilities; inventorying your projects for home maintenance and improvement will help you budget for maximum value and comfort.

Basic Tips:

  • Has your heating system been checked for the winter? If not, it’s a good idea to have a technician look it over before things get critical. Have the technician also check equipment such as air cleaners, humidifiers, and heat exchanging ventilators, as these are related.
  • Do all activities that require a ladder on a day when the weather is mild and the ground dry.
  • If you have a professional look at your windows, siding, or roofing, have them look over your home’s entire exterior for any other problems.

Insulation:

  • Ensure that your attic insulation is rated to at least R30.
  • Ensure that your crawl space is insulated, as the gap will make floors (and therefore you) colder.
  • Insulate pipes and heating ducts that pass through unprotected crawl spaces or attics.
  • Seriously consider insulating your basement walls. Not only will this save you dollars when it comes to heating, but it can also reduce typical moisture problems that are caused by condensation.
  • If possible, ensure that wall insulation is rated to R11.
  • If it happens that your house was built before 1950, you may find it a candidate for simple, cost-saving blown-in wall insulation.

Attic Ventilation:

  • Ensure that attic insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves (a.k.a., “soffits” or “overhangs”). This helps prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Ensure any ridge vent and vents located at the eaves are free of plants and other sorts of debris.
  • Ensure that bird and rodent screens for attic vents are still in good shape, and replace if necessary.

Exterior Walls:

  • Check exterior paint. Repainting before the first signs of cracking and peeling makes things easier. If the paint is in that bad a shape, this is a good time for the installation of maintenance-free vinyl siding. If you choose to install siding, ask the contractor about increasing insulation in exterior walls at the same time.
  • Check for rotted/rotting wood.
  • Check for any mud trails, sawdust, and other things that would indicate the presence of termites.
  • Check mortar joints. Repair cracks and crumbling to prevent more extensive damage.
  • Look for gaps around pipes and wires that pass through the exterior walls. Add caulk so that air can’t leak through in either direction.
  • Make sure firewood piles aren’t leaning against the side of the house.
  • Remove, drain, and coil garden hoses to protect them from the effects of freezing.
  • Close off the interior cut-off valve for outdoor faucets and then open outdoor faucets to drain them, so that no water will freeze in the pipe between.

Skylights:

  • Ensure that wall insulation is installed with siding.
  • Have the interior painted and decorated.

Windows/Doors:

  • Repair or replace cracked or broken window panes, or damaged screens.
  • Make sure windows open and shut easily. This is vital if there’s a fire.
  • If you have the older, removable style of wooden storm windows, arrange to have them reinstalled.
  • Replace or repair broken window locks or latches. Not only is this safer for your family, but windows and doors that don’t latch/lock also don’t seal properly against the weather.
  • Check the putty around window panes. If chunks are coming off, it’s time for fresh putty (painters can easily do this). If the windows are only one pane or in bad shape, it’s usually more cost-effective to replace them with more modern and energy-efficient windows.
  • Place caulk around frames.

Central Heating:

  • Adjust your ventilation—open vents by the floor and close vents by the ceiling to improve air circulation during the winter. Ensure all air vents are unobstructed.
  • Have your furnace tested and, if necessary, prepped before the weather gets too cold. This is as much for your comfort—and your wallet’s—as to keep qualified technicians from having to visit when things are at their worst.
  • Have your humidifier cleaned up and looked over.
  • Clean or replace all of your furnace’s air filters.
  • If your heating system is older than fifteen years, do consider replacing it with a modern and more efficient unit.
  • For window or through-wall air conditioners, shield the unit for the winter with the appropriate covering or remove it entirely for the season and seal the opening to avoid heat loss.

Rainwater Protection:

  • The ground around your foundation should drops half an inch for every foot you move away, and the drop should be steeper if water flows in the area are typically heavy.
  • Ensure that any concrete patios, walks, and driveways slope away from your home’s foundation.
  • Keep your home’s gutters clean always. In autumn, it’s far better to clean them several times to avoid a buildup of leaves and the risk of an overflow rather than wait until the end of the season. Check that support brackets and nails are securely in place. Downspouts should be positioned to discharge water well away from the foundation.
  • Go outside and use binoculars or opera glasses during a rainstorm (not if there’s lightning in the area!) to inspect your roof and gutters as they work. Ensure that the water is not coming down behind the gutters and that the gutters are properly sloped toward the downspouts.
  • Rusty gutters should be replaced with aluminum or vinyl gutters.
  • If there’s any indication of a leak, or damaged shingles or flashing, have the whole roof checked. In many cases, it may be more cost effective to get a new roof than to retain a leaky roof with regular shingles that’s more than fifteen years old.
  • Ensure that there’s no debris in stairwell drains, and consider having a permanent roof built to protect an exterior stairway from debris and rain.
  • Ensure that the rims of any window wells are tall enough to prevent groundwater and runoff from getting into them. Place covers over window wells that are vulnerable to rain.
  • Ensure culverts and exterior drains are free of debris.
  • Test your basement’s sump pump.
  • If you find you have a wet basement, have it looked at by an inspector that specializes in water problems.

Cleaning:

  • Take a few minutes to vacuum under and behind your freezer/refrigerator. Such a simple thing can improve the efficiency of your unit.
  • Have the chimney cleaned out and looked over by a chimney sweep.
  • Have the drapes, carpets, and upholstery cleaned. This will keep your house fresher and lessen the burden of traditional “spring cleaning.”
  • Have the windows washed, and the deck power-washed and resealed.

Safety:

  • Ensure that all smoke detectors are functioning and have fresh batteries.
  • Place a carbon monoxide alarm near your furnace and any fireplaces that get used.
  • Ensure your house number is well-lit and easily readable from the street.
  • Check hand rails inside your home and out to ensure that they extend enough to provide ample support and can prevent a fall.
  • Make sure that entrances are well-lit by lights connected to motion sensors and light detectors.
  • Test your security alarm.

Yard/Garden:

  • Ensure fence posts are sound, and that any gates open and close properly.
  • Arrange for lawn renovation work; prune shrubs and trees, arrange for leaf raking.
  • Arrange for snow removal, and ensure that other equipment and materials needed to handle snow and ice are on hand.

Improvements to Consider:

  • Thermal replacement windows
  • Energy-efficient front door
  • Kitchen/bathroom remodeling
  • Basement remodeling/finishing