Winter Prep Tips: Getting Your Home Ready
My dad always told me not to use the word “hate”. He said that it was too strong of a word for anyone to use lightly. But I’ll use it now. I hate being cold. Luckily, I live in the South and we don’t usually get very cold. And winter seems to start later in this area than it does in other parts of the country. We are just now getting to the point where we are having to break out the big coats, scarves, gloves and winter boots. Those poor folks over in Montana have already been seeing snow for weeks now. Thank goodness I live in Arkansas!
No matter what part of the country you live in, you’re going to have some type of winter weather to deal with. Getting ready for that weather that’s coming in is just as essential as preparing for severe weather. Plus, winterizing your home can save you thousands of dollars in the long run, and in some cases can even save your lives.
Getting Ready for Old Man Winter
Cold weather can wreak havoc on essential parts of your home. Not just those things that make life easier, but the appliances and systems that make it a home. Freezing temperatures can affect everything from water in your pipes to the safety of your heating system.
Getting Things Ready Outside
Let’s start outside the home and work inwards. There are a number of things outside of your home that may need a little TLC before the temperature starts dropping. Let’s look at them.
Landscaping and Outdoor Living Areas
- Cover Patio Furniture
Many times this type of furniture is not made to withstand harsher conditions. Make sure to cover it or bring it indoors for storage.
- Seal or Stain your Wooden Decks
Wooden decks are particularly susceptible to damage from water and freezing temperatures. Sealing your wooden decks helps keep water from soaking into the wood. When the water that is in the wood freezes, it forces the wood apart and causes splits and cracks.
- Clean and Seal your Concrete
Concrete may seem like its tough, but water is an even more destructive force. Just like with a wooden deck, you want to keep water from soaking into the concrete and freezing. Once water freezes within something like concrete, you are going to see cracks forming. This goes for brick pavers, as well.
- Drain the Gas from your Lawn Mower
- Drain Water Fountains and Water Features
You want to make sure that the fountains and the pipes that they draw the water from are not going to freeze and burst in the middle of winter. It would be an expensive headache to fix something like that.
- Clean and Store your Garden Tools
- Clean and Store Your BBQ Equipment
It’s easier to clean the grill in the fall than it would be in the spring when you are ready to get out there and start barbequing again.
- Winterize your Pool and Spa
Each pool/spa system is different, so you are going to have to follow the recommendations that are set out for your particular unit. Make sure you do this before the temperatures get below freezing.
- Drain your Sprinkler System
Most sprinkler systems have very small plastic hoses that feed the water all over the area. Can you imaging dozens of little burst hoses spraying water from underneath your lawn when you turn it on in the spring? It might look like something from a Disney cartoon in your head, but I don’t want anyone to have to deal with it in real life. So, make sure that the water is out of the sprinkler system. Most of them also have valves that open and allow air into the tubes. Air in the tubes will help dry any moisture that might get in them.
- Cover your Exterior Faucets and Drain Hoses
When I was younger and working on my degree, I worked at one of the big box retail stores. One of the first things to sell out every year were those nifty little Styrofoam faucet covers. I had an older gentleman tell me that when he and his wife were newlyweds, he didn’t think about covering up the faucet outside. Well, it froze and burst. It flooded their newly remodeled kitchen and ruined all of the bottom cabinets. Needless to say, he was buying one.
Exterior of Your Home
- Check the Roof
Your roof is what protects the inside of your home from rain, snow, sleet and wind. Winter is really tough on the roof because snow and ice are heavy. They get packed up there and then you get a nice gust of wind and, poof, there goes some of your shingles. Make sure that your shingles are nice and tight and that you are not missing any.
- Check Flashings
Flashings are what surround any opening or space in your roof. If you have a chimney, you have flashing around it. Flashing is also under the eaves of your roof and help keep moisture out. Make sure that its all tight and that none of it is missing.
- Check Gutters and Downspouts
You want to make sure that they are all cleaned out. When debris gets lodged in the gutters and downspouts, that causes a place where water can pool. That’s the last thing you want on your roof.
- Check Exterior Outlets
You will want to make sure that these exterior outlets and switches are well insulated. This is another way that cold air can come into the home. It’s also a great way for mice and insects to get in, too!
Getting Things Ready Inside
Moving inside the home there are many things that may need some attention before they are ready for the big freeze. Let’s take a look at them, now.
Doors and Windows
- Inspect Caulking
You’ll want to inspect the caulking around the doors and windows. You want to make sure that there isn’t any air coming in around them. Every leak in a door and window will cost you money and make it harder to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
- Check Weather Stripping
Weather stripping is the flexible band between the opening of a door or window and the actual hardware. This stuff is crucial to keeping your home energy efficient. You can’t caulk a door or window shut because you will need to be able to open it, eventually. Weather stripping gives you the same protection as caulk without hindering the opening and closing process.
- Make Sure Your Windows are Locked
Now this may seem a little strange because you’re not locking them to keep people out, you’re locking them to keep the heat in. Locked windows give you a better seal than unlocked ones because the lock pulls them tighter together.
- Insulate Windows
If you’re like us and you live in an older house with older windows, you may need to take a step further. You can use a type of insulation that is like the DIY tinting for cars. It sticks to the windows themselves and helps to keep the heat in.
Pipes and Water Heaters
- Insulate Pipes
You’ll want to make sure that all of the water pipes are well insulated. A burst water pipe can cause all sorts of problems. If your pipes are exposed, they are more susceptible to the cold than pipes that are in more sheltered areas.
- Insulate your Hot Water Heater
It’s harder on hot water heaters in the winter. Or at least it is for the traditional tank ones. Not only is the water that is coming into them colder, but the exterior of the tank is cold, so it takes more energy to heat up the same amount of water. They make insulated blankets that are made to go around the hot water heater. This helps it maintain the temperature of the water with less energy used.
- Drain the System
If you are leaving a property for an extended period of time, make sure to drain all of the water out of the system and turn it off at the meter.
Getting Things Warmed Up
To me, being cold is one of the worst things that could happen. I try very hard not to turn the heat up very high, but it is so tempting. Your heating units are vital during the winter months. So, you want to make sure that they are all in good working order.
- Do a Test Run
Turn the unit on and the thermostat up to around 80 degrees. It should kick on and blow warm air in a few minutes. If it doesn’t you may need to have it serviced.
Make sure that you have your unit serviced as it is needed so that you don’t have to rush to have it done.
- Replace the Filter
This is the easiest thing to do and what will make your unit last longer than anything else. If the filter becomes clogged, then it can put a lot of stress on the unit.
- Check the Fuel
If you are using a gas or oil furnace, make sure you have plenty of fuel before it turns cold. Fuel companies often raise their rates when the temperature starts dropping so its more economical to fill up in the warmer months anyway.
- Clean the Vents
Clogged vents have the same affect that a clogged filter does on a unit. It makes the unit work harder than it should.
- Check Exhaust Vents
Some types of furnaces vent through a chimney or through a side wall. To keep pressure from building up while you are using the unit, you want to make sure that the exhaust vents are free of obstruction.
- Carbon Monoxide
You want to make sure that you don’t have a carbon monoxide leak. You can usually get a detector fairly cheaply that will tell you whether or not you have a leak. You definitely don’t need to have a leak.
Fireplaces and Chimneys
- Check for Obstructions
You can usually look straight up from the fireplace into the chimney to see if there is anything blocking the flue.
- Check the Damper
Make sure that it opens and closes fully and locks in both of those positions.
- Check the Draft
Make sure that any smoke is going to be drawn correctly. You can do this by lighting some newspaper and watching the smoke as it gets pulled upward. If it doesn’t, then you probably need to have your chimney cleaned.
- Have it Cleaned
If you have never used the fireplace or haven’t used it in a long time, get a professional to come in and clean it? Built up creosote and ash make for a very flammable and dangerous combination.
- Inspect the Brick or Stone
If you see that there are any cracks in the mortar or open joints in the mortar, get them repaired immediately. This is the only thing that protects your wooden walls from the fire.
- Clear Debris
You want to make sure that your condensing unit is clear of any debris and dirt. If you can, use a water hose and spray the unit down to help keep it clean.
- Cover the Unit
Even though these units are made to be left outdoors, covering them with a breathable waterproof cover can keep debris from collecting on the unit. Debris and damp can cause the unit to rust or freeze which can damage the internal components.
- Window Units
The best thing to do with window units in the winter is to simply remove them. If you can’t remove them, try to make sure that the vents are closed off and that the entire area around the unit is sealed as best you can. Something that will help with that is to get a waterproof cover like the one for the larger units and cover the window unit with it.
I hope that these tips can help make your home more comfortable and energy efficient this winter. I know it makes a big difference at our house between one year to the next.