Is your home ready for Old Man Winter?

October 17, 2013

Here are 10 suggestions for winterizing your house you may find rather helpful

  POSTAGE  by Rob Stamp

Before the temperature drops, winds begin to howl and snow begins to fall, you might want to spend a few minutes getting your house in order. Without taking some of these preventive measures, a homeowner may very well be overcome with a case of the wintertime blues. And, just like its summertime counterpart, there ain’t no cure for the wintertime blues.

  1. Clean those nasty gutters. Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home’s gutters, by hand, by scraper or by spatula. That’s right. Give it the ol’ Aunt Jemima treatment. A good rinse from the hose (before you put it away) helps ensure the winter’s rain and melting snow to drain. Clogged drains can form ice dams, in which water backs up, freezes and causes water to seep into the house. While hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the foundation. Otherwise, it could cause flooding or other water damage. More important than ever, you need to be aware that most water damage like that IS NOT covered by homeowners insurance. So, whatever you can do to head off these concerns could pay for itself in a big way.
  2. Block those pesky leaks. According to EarthWorks Group, the average American home has leaks that amount to a nine square-foot hole in the wall. 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. If you don’t have incense, invite over one of your hippy friends who does. You may want to buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors. Caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots. Gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share outer walls, where cold air often enters. Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. For brick areas, use masonry sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing.
  3. Insulate yourself. Another project that costs a little money — but, boy, talk about getting your money back quick — is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic. We’re told you need a minimum of 12 inches in your attic. Insert your own dirty joke here.
  4. Check the furnace. If you haven’t yet, turn on your furnace now to make sure it’s working, before the really cold conditions set in. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. If the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional A) mud wrestler; B) studio musician; C) heating and air conditioning technician; or D) Obamacare navigator. The correct answer, of course, is C) a professional HVAC technician. It’s a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually. A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case.
  5. Get your ducts in a row. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home can lose up to 60 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if the 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. Ducts aren’t always easy to se, but you can often find them exposed in the basement, the attic or crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched and fix gaps with metal-backed tape. Duct tape, one of the most useful inventions known to man, won’t always stand up to the job over time. Ducts should be vacuumed once every few years to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that gathers and can cause respiratory problems for some.
  6. Face your windows. Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens and put up storm windows, which provide an extra layer of protection and warmth. Storm windows are particularly helpful to those who have older, single-pane glass windows. One other consideration for those folks: I’ve yet to hear someone tell me they regretted updating their windows.
  7. Don’t forget the chimney. Ideally, spring is the time to think about your chimney because, in the fall, chimney sweeps are busier than A) a beaver; B) a one-armed paper hanger; C) a whore on dollar day; or D) all of the above. The correct answer, of course, is E) the DMV at the end of the month. That said, don’t put off chimney needs before using your fireplace. A common myth is that a chimney needs to be swept every year. Not true. But a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year. Be sure to ask your chimney sweep to perform that little Dick Van Dyke number from “Mary Poppins.” You and him will both be glad you did.
  8. Reverse that fan. Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don’t often think of. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable.
  9. Put a wrap on it. A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before Jack Frost sets his grip. Before freezing nights hit, make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off at a turnoff valve inside your house and that the lines are drained. Next, go looking for pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces like basements, garages and crawlspaces. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you’re really worried about a pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.
  10. Finally, check those alarms. This is a great time to check the operation — and change the batteries — on your home’s smoke detectors. Many people, me included, are accustomed to letting daylight savings time changes dictate when to do this. Fire officials recommend replacing detectors every 10 years. Test them — older ones, in particular — with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the test button. Indeed, this may be a good time to invite over one of your hippy friends again. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works.