It’s Time to Winterize

Winter can be a beautiful season. But, before those sleigh bells start ringing, it’s important to prepare your home to make it as safe, energy efficient, and as cozy as possible. And that means it is time to winterize. But where to begin?

It’s no surprise that some of your greatest home energy losses stem from lack of proper insulation – drafty doors and windows, fireplaces without doors, and poorly insulated roofs and basements. And poor insulation equals money out of your pocket.

Minimize heat (and AC loss)

  • Locate and plug gaps in windows and doors. Here’s a slick trick to find leaks: Hold a lit candle or incense stick at the edges of windows and doors. If there isn’t a leak, the flame or smoke will remain vertical. If the flame/smoke moves sideways, indicating a draft, fill outside gaps with expansion foam or inside gaps with weather-stripping or rope caulk (pliable putty formed into rope-like strips).
  • Sliding glass doors are tough on weather-stripping, so you may need to replace often.
  • Wrap your hot water tank with an insulating blanket. According to the Department of Energy, this could save you up to 45% in annual water heating costs.
  • Use foam insulating inserts on your exterior outlets and switch-plates.
  • In cold weather areas, install storm windows, and cover basement window wells with plastic shields.
  • Switch the direction of fans to a clockwise rotation. Because warm air rises, you want the fan to move the warm air back down into your living area.
  • The most significant air leaks tend to be in the attic or basement, so it pays to have a specialist inspect those areas for you.

Check your fireplace for energy efficiency and safety

  • If you don’t have fireplace doors, consider having them installed. Not only do they protect against flying embers, they also greatly increase energy efficiency.
  • Ensure the damper opens and closes properly.
  • Make sure the chimney is clear of animal or bird nests. Consider capping or screening the chimney to prevent the presence of flammable materials.
  • Check that its drafting properly, meaning smoke is rising up the chimney and not coming into the living area. Test it by lighting a small paper fire and watching to see if smoke rises properly. If not, get a professional to check the chimney.
  • If the chimney hasn’t been cleaned in a while, hire a certified chimney sweep to do so. A buildup of creosote can cause a chimney fire. Check the Chimney Safety Institute of America website to find a certified chimney sweep.

Furnace

  • Test the furnace before the cold weather hits. Turn the unit on and take it up to 80 degrees or so. The unit should kick on and start blowing warm air within a few minutes. If fine, turn it back to a normal setting. Even if there doesn’t seem to be problem, it’s always a good idea to have the furnace inspected and ducts cleaned annually by a professional.
  • Install a clean air filter and have several extras on hand. Change monthly for greatest efficiency.
  • Make sure nothing is blocking heating vents, so airflow is not disrupted.
  • Use a programmable thermostat. By having temps automatically turned down when you are asleep or away, the EPA estimates you can save 10-30% on heating and cooling bills.

Smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends the following:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including both inside and outside each bedroom.
  • Install CO alarms on each level of your home, and outside bedrooms.
  • Change batteries in smoke alarms and CO detectors each fall with the time change. Or pick a date that works for you, but it’s vital to install fresh batteries annually.
  • Test all alarms monthly.

The National Fire Protection Agency advises replacing smoke alarm units every 10 years. The NFPA has excellent on-line resources to assist consumers in the proper use of smoke alarms to safeguard their families.

Outdoors

  • Check that the foundation is clear of vegetation or debris that might entice critters to nest (and might then decide to slip inside your home!)
  • Make sure gutters are clear of debris. Water collects in clogged gutters, and if it freezes, can cause roof damage and wood rot. If water runs down the side of the house, it can also cause foundation problems. The Shop-Vac Wet Dry Blower Vac, with its 120 degree elbow accessory, is a great way to quickly clean gutters.
  • Check crawlspaces, and, if possible, close off to animals.
  • Trim any tree branches close to your home or electrical wires.
  • Drain and store hoses. Put insulated covers on outdoor spigots.
  • Everyone in your home should know where the water main is located, and how to shut it off in an emergency.
  • If water lines to outside faucets have shut off valves, turn them off. Otherwise, cover them with foam or insulated hard-plastic covers.
  • Remember to check water lines in crawl spaces or attic to make sure they’re insulated. If not, wrap with foam insulation. In colder areas, first wrap the pipe with heating tape, then with foam insulation.
  • Turn off the water supply to sprinkler systems.
  • Service or tune up snow blowers.
  • Have a supply of ice melt or sand available.

Be prepared for power outages

  • Flashlights and batteries.
  • A 1-week supply of bottled water, canned foods, pet foods, and medications.
  • Emergency numbers, including the number of your utility company.
  • First aid kit.

Whew, that was a lot of work, but now you can put your feet up, relax, and be confident your family is protected, and comfortable, this winter.