A Time for Everything – Winter Can Be Hard On Your Home

A Time for Everything
Winter Can Be Hard On Your Home

The fall Equinox is the time when temperatures begin dropping, sliding into winter. So it?s a good time of year to begin preparing your home for winter and doing the maintenance necessary to keep it in tip-top shape through the winter.

1. Clean out the gutters. SAFETY FIRST – I don?t recommend climbing ladders unless you are very comfortable in doing so. In the fall, leaves can be wet and slippery. So if you do climb a ladder, be sure to restrain it from movement. At the base of the ladder I will drive two 18? pieces of metal rebar into the ground at the base of the ladder, then use some webbing or other bungee cords to keep the ladder from kicking out at the base. If you?ve seen my inspections, I use a bungee cord at the top to fasten the ladder to the gutter in case I slip, the ladder will not move and hopefully stop my fall. I would prefer to hire someone experienced and insured to clean my gutters but not everyone wants to hire someone, especially when it often has to be done several times before the snow falls. There are dozens of gutter covers; some good, some not so good. Do your homework before you invest. Regardless of whether or not you hire someone or you do it yourself, clean gutters are important to help minimize the risk of Ice Dams and subsequent leaks into your home. If your gutters are clogged with leaves, the debris can freeze into a big, icy mass, that could get under shingles and damage your roof. If you decide to clean your own gutters, you’ll need to put on some work gloves. Then you?re ready to scoop out the leaves & miscellaneous debris. which will allow water to drain. Some people like using a leaf blower and this will speed things up. But you will probably still need to use your hands to remove the sludge & grime that builds up over the spring and summer.

2. Have the HVAC system serviced. Winter can be hard on heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. According to EnergyStar standards, HVAC systems perform much more efficiently when properly maintained. If it?s been a year or more since your HVAC system was serviced, call a licensed professional to perform yearly maintenance checks.

For about $80 to $100, a HVAC contractor will inspect your heating system to be sure it is clean and in good repair, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon-monoxide leakage.

Check your furnace filter monthly. Change it if the filter is clogged with dust or dander, or if it?s damaged in any way. If you use the wider 4-5″ filters that are often changed every 6-12 months, you should still check them every few months, especially if you have pets that shed.

If you act soon, you’ll minimize the chance of being put at the end of a long line for repairs on the coldest day of the year. Look for a HVAC contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program.

3. Protect exposed pipes. Do you have any pipes exposed to the outside or are in an unheated area of the basement or crawl space? If so, these are potential problems. Water inside the pipes can freeze and cause the pipe to burst when temperatures drop below freezing. Get pipe insulation from the local hardware store; cut it to fit the length of the pipe, wrap it around the pipe and secure it with duct tape, if needed. I installed frost free hose bibbs on my home, but it?s still a good idea to turn off the isolation valves typically found in the basement within a few feet of the outside hose bibb. Don?t forget to add the hose bibb vacuum breakers (about $5.00 and up).

4. Prevent door locks from freezing. If the doors to your home are directly exposed to the elements or if your car is left outside (not in a heated garage), consider picking up some powdered-graphite lubricant from the hardware store. Spray the lubricant into the door lock (where the key goes in), then turn the key in the lock. Doing this every season lubricates the pins inside the locks and helps keep your door locks from freezing up.

5. Mulch your flower beds. Sometime before the new year and definitely before the coldest winter temps hit, add a layer of hardwood mulch to all of the flower beds. The mulch acts as insulation and helps regulate changes in soil temperatures, protecting the roots from significant damage.

6. Check for and seal air drafts. It?s important to find and seal the air leaks and drafts you find in your home because if you don’t, it can cost you big money. Air leaks make your heating and cooling system use more energy and work harder to do the job you want it to do. The Candle Test is one way to determine if you have drafty windows, doors and baseboards. On a windy day, light a candle and run it along the sides of the exterior windows, door and baseboards. If the candle flame wavers, you have an air leak. To seal the leaks, pick up white or clear paintable caulking and weather stripping or window-film kits from your local hardware store. For baseboards, clean and dry the area with a paper towel. Then, using the caulking, fill in gaps between the trim and the floor with an even bead. Smooth with a caulking tool or a plastic spoon, then remove the excess with a mildly soapy damp cloth. To seal drafty windows and doors, use weather stripping (around the frame) or window-film kits (over the glass).

7. Reverse the Airflow on Ceiling Fan. Use ceiling fans to reverse the airflow. In summer, you want air blowing downward for a cooling effect. Reverse the fan in winter so that it circulates the hot air around the room. This works especially well in rooms with high ceilings. Hot air rises and collects near the ceiling, so bring it down where people gather. I personally keep the fans blowing upward all year round as it still circulates the air just fine for my preference.

I hope you?ve found this helpful. If so, feel free to share it with friends and family.

Do it once, do it right.

Donn Anderson
Certified Master Inspector?