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House & Home

Get Your Home Ready for Winter's Chill

Posted December 5, 2006

Whether you live in the frigid North or the sunny South, winter places a special set of demands on your house.

With just a little preparation, you can make sure your house weathers the cold months in style. In this article, you'll find a step-by-step list of things to do to get ready.

Heating System

Robert Formisano, an American Institute Of Architects (AIA) certified architect, from the Home Repair Guide for About.com, had this to say about heating system maintenance: "The most important thing you can do is make sure you have heat in the winter, and that means checking your heating system for proper operation before very cold weather hits."

The first thing to do is turn your heater on and make sure it's blowing warm air. Remember that, unlike air conditioners, heaters usually don't start blowing right away. Don't panic. Wait a couple of minutes. It's also not uncommon to get some odd smells the first time you fire up the heater for the season.

You'll also want to change the filter (check your owner's manual) and have a technician come and inspect the system and do any necessary service. This is especially critical for gas heaters, as leaks in any of the lines can be deadly.

If your heating system has venting that's different from your air conditioner, make sure there's no summer clutter blocking the vents. You can set the thermostat to 80, but if you've got a box sitting on top of the register, your living room will still be cold.

Windows And Doors

If you've got air leaks, the first cold day of autumn will reveal them to you. One of the oldest methods for detecting an air leak is to use a lit candle, moving it around the border to see if it flickers in response to air flow. However, if the leak is anything above a pinhole, you should be able to feel the cold air coming in.

The two main methods for sealing your windows are caulk and plastic sheeting. The sheeting, which usually secures to the window frame with an adhesive strip, is the most effective from an insulation standpoint, as it creates an "air cushion" between the window and the room. However, if you've got modern double-paned windows, you already have an insulating air space. The plastic can be cumbersome to install, and once it's up, you won't be opening your windows again until it comes down.

Around exterior doors, check the weather stripping. Older doors that may have shrunk and left an airspace at the bottom can benefit from the use of a "draft dodger," a cloth or canvas strip filled with beanbag material that sits up against the base of the door, blocking cold drafts.

Chimney And Fireplace

Before you get your fireplace going for the season, get it cleaned and checked by a professional. This is not a job for the do-it-yourselfer! If you're tempted to use one of the "chimney-sweeping logs" in lieu of a pro, Formisano says, "They are no substitute for mechanical chimney sweeping and removal of creosote deposits. Even the one manufacturer, CSL, that has approval from the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) states on its packaging: 'The Creosote Sweeping Log does not take the place of inspection and professional cleaning.' At best, these logs are a part of an ongoing chimney inspection and maintenance program."

Many chimney sweeps also do air and dryer duct cleaning, and this would be a great time to see if that needs to be done.

Find out what a chimney sweep really does, and why they do it by clicking here.

Plumbing

Now's the time to wrap your outside hose bibs. Pipe insulation kits can be had at any home center. Avoid the newspaper-and-duct-tape method, as water will penetrate through even the smallest hole and render the paper useless, not to mention the problems of having a soggy mass of paper up next to your house, which can foster mold growth.

If you have a hose bib you'll be using during the winter, removable foam covers are also available that allow you access to the bib with just a few twists of a latch.

Check interior pipes, too, anywhere they are exposed such as in attics and crawl spaces.

Insulate your hot water heater, too. Most hot water heaters are parked in unheated areas and lose a tremendous amount of heat. An insulating blanket and topper can cut energy use by almost 40 percent.

Last but not least, don't forget to drain your sprinkler system and hoses. Water expands as it freezes, and you could be in for a nasty surprise when you turn your sprinklers on in the spring if you don't drain the pipes in the fall.

Roof And Gutters

Heat rises, and any missing shingles in your roof will let a veritable cascade of warmth spill out. Replacing loose shingles, of course, is always a good idea ... but it's not something you get around to often. Winterizing gives you the perfect excuse.

While up on the roof, take a look at the gutters. Once the leaves are done falling, be sure to clear them all out of the gutters. They will hold water which, once frozen, will be a very heavy weight pulling the gutters off the house. As you're rinsing out the gutters, pay attention to the water flow. If you see any low spots or areas where the water pools, try to even out the gutter floor to alleviate the problem. This may be as simple as a few taps with a rubber mallet or as involved as replacing an entire section.

Look at the outside of your chimney, too. While any qualified chimney sweep will make a visual inspection of your chimney, this is your chance to make one of your own. A second set of eyes can't hurt, especially on something so potentially dangerous and costly.

Once you've done all these jobs, sit back in front of the fire and bask in the fact that your house is ready for winter's onslaught, which according to the Farmer's Almanac is going to be wetter and colder than usual.
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  • inspector01 Dec 17, 2006

    A few things in the story were worthwhile suggestgions, such having chimneys swept before use, checking out the heating system before winter and cleaning gutters. Some of the other ideas seemed to be more appropriate for extreme northern climes, such as installing a water heater blanket. This may be worthwhile in Minnesota, but the writer should also be aware that these blankets will void the warranty on most new water heaters.
    Insulating hose bibbs may work, but how about turning off the shutoff valves in the crawl space? That is much more effective.
    Then there is the ridiculous comment about sealing drafty windows with caulk. This will seal the windows so they are almost imposible to open in spring. If used on bedroom windows this can prevent them from being used as an emergency fire escape. The same could be said of the plastic sheeting, especially in a childs room.
    Last, any earthling should know the purpose of shingles is to keep rain water out, not to keep heat in!!!!