Meteorologically speaking, the Fall Season began on September 1st, and ends on November 30th. Now is the time to prep your home for colder weather. Here are ten helpful tips to get your home ready. – T.Fedoruk
You’ll get a full season’s worth of savings, comfort and peace of mind by taking a few steps now to get your home ready for cold weather.
By Christopher Solomon, MSN
So you’ve pulled your sweaters out of mothballs and found your mittens at the bottom of the coat closet. But what about your house? Is it prepared for the cold months ahead? You’ll be a lot less comfortable in the coming months if you haven’t girded Home Sweet Home for Old Man Winter.
With the help of several experts, we’ve boiled down your autumn to-do list to 10 easy tips:
- Clean those gutters
Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris, especially those annoying beans, from your home’s gutters — by hand, by scraper or spatula, and finally by a good hose rinse — so that winter’s rain and that rare melting snow can drain. As you’re hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.
- Block those leaks
One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out, experts say. The average American home has leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group.
First, find the leaks: On a breezy day, walk around inside holding a lit incense stick to the most common drafty areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames, electrical outlets. Then, buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots, says Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Today’s Homeowner.” Outlet gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share a home’s outer walls, where cold air often enters.
Seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. For brick and stucco areas, use masonry sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing. “Even if it’s a small crack, it’s worth sealing up,” Lipford says. “It also discourages any insects from entering your home.”
- Insulate yourself
“Another thing that does cost a little money — but boy, you do get the money back quick — is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic,” says Lipford. “Regardless of the climate conditions you live in, in the (U.S.) you need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic.” Don’t clutter your brain with R-values or measuring tape, though. Here’s Lipford’s rule of thumb on whether you need to add insulation: “If you go into the attic and you can see the ceiling joists you know you don’t have enough, because a ceiling joist is at most 10 or 11 inches.” A related tip: If you’re layering insulation atop other insulation, don’t use the kind that has “kraft face” finish (i.e., a paper backing). It acts as a vapor barrier, Lipford explains, and therefore can cause moisture problems in the insulation.
- Check the furnace
First, turn your furnace on now, to make sure it’s even working, before the coldest weather descends. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. But if the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a HVAC professional to check your furnace. It’s a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually. Costs will often run about $100-$125. An inspector should do the following, among other things:
- Make sure that the thermostat and pilot light are working properly.
- Make sure that the fuel pipe entering your furnace doesn’t have a leak.
- Check the heat exchanger for cracks — a crack can send carbon monoxide into the home.
- Change the filter.
- Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (check them monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed.
- Get your ducts in a row
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That’s a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. (Check out this audit tool for other ideas on how to save on your energy bills this winter.) Ducts aren’t always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, the basement and in crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn’t stand up to the job over time). Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.
- Face your windows
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an average home loses up to 30% of its heating and cooling energy through air leaks around windows and doors. Old, leaky, double-pane windows are a major source of heat (and money) loss. If your windows are leaky or drafty, they need to be updated to a more efficient window. New, efficient windows will also save to cooling costs when summer comes back around. Of course, new windows are pricey. Budget to replace them a few at a time, and in the meantime, buy a window insulator kit, Lipford recommends. Basically, the kit is plastic sheeting that’s affixed to a windows interior with double-stick tape. A hair dryer is then used to shrink-wrap the sheeting onto the window. (It can be removed in the spring.) “It’s temporary and it’s not pretty, but it’s inexpensive (about $4 a window) and it’s extremely effective,” says Lipford.
- What about the chimney?
- Natural Gas Fireplaces
If you’re using a clean-burning natural gas fireplace, annual chimney sweeping is not required. You should however, check to see that the flue damper and chimney are functional and unobstructed. To keep out cold air, gas fireplaces should have glass doors installed, and keep them closed when the fireplace isn’t in use.
- Word Burning Fireplaces
Ideally, spring is the time to think about your chimney, because “chimney sweeps are going crazy right now, as you might have guessed,” says Ashley Eldridge, former director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. That said, don’t put off your chimney needs before using your fireplace, Eldridge advises. ” A common myth is that chimney needs to be swept every year,” says Eldridge. Not true. But a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year, he adds.” I’ve seen tennis balls and ducks in chimneys,” he says. Ask for a Level 1 inspection, in which the professional examines the readily accessible portions of the chimney, Eldridge says. “Most certified chimney sweeps include a Level 1 service with a sweep,” he adds.
- Wood Burning Stoves
Woodstoves are a different beast, however, cautions Eldridge. They should be swept more than once a year. A general rule of thumb is that a cleaning should be performed for every ¼ inch of creosote, “anywhere that it’s found.” Why? “If it’s ash, then it’s primarily lye — the same stuff that was once used to make soap, and it’s very acidic.” It can cause mortar and the metal damper to rot, Eldridge says. Another tip: Buy a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen, advises Eldridge. “It’s probably the single easiest protection” because it keeps out foreign objects (birds, tennis balls) as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace’s walls. He advises buying based on durability, not for its decorativeness.
- One other reminder
To keep out cold air, fireplace owners should keep their chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. And for the same reason, woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn’t in use.Check out the CSIA’S Web site for a list of certified chimneysweeps in your area.
- Reverse that fan
Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don’t often think of doing. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable.
Here’s how you know the fan is ready for winter: look up, the blades should be turning clockwise.
- Wrap those pipes
- A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before freezing nights hit. You can protect your exterior water spigots by simply purchasing little Styrofoam cups with a screw attachment for a few dollars that help insulate then from the cold.
- Next, go looking for other exposed pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces; pipes that run along the outside of your house or in your garage. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you’re really worried about the pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.
If you have already wrapped your pipes in a previous year, check the condition of the insulation and heating tape, to make sure they are in good condition.
- During those nights of extreme cold (<15 DegF), for added safety, (1) allow a faucet to drip very slowly, and (2) open the cabinet doors of vanities that are mounted along exterior facing walls. Moving water has less chance of freezing at these extreme lower temperatures, and with the cabinet doors open, cold air will not get trapped under the sink. A little water loss is better than a burst pipe in your ceiling or exterior wall. Just remember to close the faucet completely, once daylight and warmer temperatures return.
- Finally, check those alarms
This is a great time to check the operation — and change the batteries — on your home’s smoke detectors. Detectors should be replaced every 10 years, say fire officials. Test them — older ones in particular — with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the “test” button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works.Invest in a carbon monoxide detector; every home should have at least one. Prices range from $12 to $200, with many excellent detectors below $30.