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Don’t Forget to Winterize Your Home—Steps You Can Take Today

October 19, 2014

in Home Inspection | Tagged , , , , ,

Simple tips you can take today to winterize your home - doors, windows, chimneys, exterior and moreWhat if we told you there’s a way to make your home feel warmer, no matter how frigid the air is outdoors? And that your heating bills could actually drop, leaving more money in your pocket every month?

Winterizing your home saves energy (meaning money) all year long, helps keep you comfy and prevents common seasonal damage. Don’t allow the name, or the current pleasant weather, to lull you into a false sense of security, thinking that you have plenty of time before the weather turns bad to get it done.

Some “winterizing” tasks can be done now. Others, specific to colder weather, are typically performed in the late fall or around the first frost.

Winterize Windows and Doors

Many American homes still feature older, inefficient single-paned windows, and many exterior doors are just as bad. If you can afford to upgrade, installing energy-efficient doors and double-paned windows can drastically cut energy bills, in any season. (In some cases you may even qualify for a tax credit.)

If you simply can’t afford it, try the following tips:

  • Inspect each window, making sure the glass is free of cracks and tight inside the frame. Repair, reglaze or replace window panes as necessary.
  • Seek and destroy air gaps around windows and doorframes. Large gaps are easy to spot when it’s light outside and dark indoors. For smaller gaps, hold a candle (or even incense) close to the edge of the frame on a windy day, and watch for dancing flames or smoke. Fill any air gaps with caulk or low-expansion foam insulation. Squirt a small amount into the void, wait for it to cure, and then trim it flush to the wall.
  • Install or replace old weather stripping around windows and doors.
  • Replace summer window screens and screen doors with storm windows and storm doors when the weather turns cold. In the spring, reverse the process.
  • Insulate each window with plastic for winter. Use shrink wrap, sticking two-sided tape to the frame, pressing the plastic in place and heating it with a hair dryer to tighten. Alternatively, cut bubble wrap to fit snugly inside the window frame. Spray the window glass with a mist of water and stick the bubble wrap to it, bubble side toward the glass

Check Your Insulation

The simplest way to ensure that your home’s insulation is doing its job is to have an energy audit performed. Consult your local energy provider, who may conduct a courtesy audit, or hire a professional instead.

If you have access to your home’s insulation, especially in the attic, you can verify the insulation level yourself. Simply measure the depth of the material and multiply it by the insulation’s R-value per inch. Compare your total R-value to the R-value recommended for your region.  Add more insulation as appropriate. Proper insulation levels are just as important in summer as winter, and the investment will pay for itself.

Don’t forget about the water heater. Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and cover it with blanket insulation or a cover, as specified by the manufacturer, especially if it’s in an unheated area. Insulating pipes inside your home is another good idea, especially hot-water pipes, since this saves energy. Look for pipe insulating products in your local hardware store.

Seal Your Home’s Interior

No matter how well-insulated your home or energy-efficient your windows, you probably have other leaks allowing warm air to escape in the winter—or invade in the summer. In some houses, so many air leaks as exist that you might as well keep a window open. A few simple measures may save you up to 30 percent on your energy bill, according to the Department of Energy.

  • Investigate your electrical outlets. A candle or incense stick, used on a windy day, can help locate air leaks. Seal and insulate outlets, plus light switches on exterior walls, with expanding foam insulation. Alternatively, use inexpensive foam insulating forms, available at home improvement stores everywhere.
  • Look for pipes that pass through exterior walls, along with cable and electrical wires and similar items. Use caulk or expanding foam insulation to seal the penetrations; this will discourage pests as well as repel the weather.
  • Reverse the direction of ceiling fans, both in the winter and again in the spring. Turn the fan to rotate clockwise to push warm air down (for winter), and counterclockwise to pull it up (for spring).

Service Your Chimney

Spend a little time on your chimney and wood-burner each fall, before you start using it. First, look for anything obstructing the chimney, such as bird’s nests or debris. Adding a screen or chimney cap prevents these problems. Next, clean the chimney flue to remove dirt and creosote. Follow by cleaning the wood burning stove or fireplace, removing the ashes and creosote that dropped from the chimney flue. Also check the interior portion of the flue, when dealing with a wood stove, to ensure the connections are secure.

Weatherproofing your chimney will help eliminate another huge potential air leak. Keeping the damper closed when the wood burner isn’t in use helps, but special chimney caps work better. These caps fit snugly on top of the chimney, and you can open or close it by reaching into the chimney and pulling a chain. Alternatively, fill a large bag with air and use it to block off the flue. Special chimney insulators are also available at your local home improvement store.

Weatherproof Your Home’s Exterior

Prepping the outside of your home—both the house and the property—can prevent costly damage caused by temperature extremes. While this is in no means a complete list, some of the things to focus on include:

  • Remove any window-unit air conditioners for winter. Cover permanent or central air units with protective covers that block ice, snow and wind.
  • Trim trees to prevent branches from hanging over electrical lines and buildings.
  • Clean off the roof (on the house and any outbuildings) to remove accumulated dirt, leaves and debris. Leaving such matter alone encourages mold, rot and other invaders, as well as adding extra weight to the roof, which may be stressed in areas with deep snow accumulation. Watch for signs of damage like missing shingles, soft spots and gutters separating from the house, and repair as needed.
  • Clean out gutters that drain water from the roof. Install special gutter screens to prevent future problems. Look at downspouts as well; ensure that they are not clogged and that the connections are secure.
  • Rake up leaves and other organic matter from around your home’s foundation. As you work, keep an eye out for signs of foundation problems and other items that may need repair, like damaged siding or rotting trim.
  • Blow out or drain your sprinkler system before winter. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for best results.
  • Prepare your swimming pool for winter weather conditions.
  • Disconnect any garden hoses used during the year from the outside faucet (technically named a hosebib). Drain the hose by lifting one end and then reaching lower along the hose, lifting these portions too. Store to prevent weather damage.
  • Winterize the hosebib next, by turning off the water supply that feeds it. Use the shutoff valve, which is typically located close to it but inside the house. Open the faucet to allow any remaining water to drain, then close it again. Fit a frost protective cover (available at home improvement stores) over the hosebib to protect it from freezing temperatures.
  • Insulate exposed pipes with pipe insulation, or even wrap them with newspapers in a pinch.

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