Get Your House Ready for Winter

Get Your House Ready for Winter

By Marilyn Pribus –

Hard to believe, but some trees are actually starting to lose their leaves for winter. You should be thinking about getting ready, too.  Here are some pointers to prep your property for cold weather. Don’t wait for winter storm warnings.

Inspect the outside of your property, looking for cracks in the foundation and loose shingles. After dark, look around doors and windows for light shining from inside and mark these air leaks for caulking. Check for spots where unwanted guests looking for a cozy warm winter den might sneak in.

Consider storing away window screens. This will let in more daylight and reduce the risk of damage from accumulated snow or ice.

Remove leaves and debris from gutters to prevent ice dams that can promote roof leaks or cause gutters to break off from the eaves. There are adapters that connect to a hose to  wash out debris and many leaf blowers have attachments that can blow gutters clean.

Look upward. Snow and ice can break tree limbs so remove branches that could fall on your roof, power lines, or driveway.

Replace tired weather-stripping on your doors. For air leaks under seldom-used doors, buy (or make) a “door snake.” This old-timey device, usually made of fabric and filled with heavy stuffing such as rice or beans, acts as a draft blocker. Find easy directions on the internet.

Don’t wait to have your heat pump or furnace professionally serviced because that first cold snap will find many heating repair companies overwhelmed.

If your system is more than 15 years old, you might be surprised how much more efficient replacement equipment could be. Except in the very coldest weather, heat pumps are effective in Central Virginia. 

Take time to check the insulation in your attic to keep heat from escaping. If you have a whole-house fan, lay a lightweight batten of insulation over it.  A “door” that many people overlook is attic access. Rigid foam board insulation is effective to protect a removable panel. If the access is pull-down folding stairs, it’s a little more complicated, but the internet provides good directions for insulating that space.

Check the attic for signs of moisture or visible leaks in your roof and repair if needed.  Cover your attic access door with insulation to prevent heat loss.

Change the direction of any ceiling fans to blow upwards and circulate warmed air around the room. Ensure your heating registers haven’t become blocked by rugs, toys, or other items.

Replace air filters. Consider a filter’s MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value). Disposables generally have a significantly higher MERV and can filter out pollen, dust mites, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, animal dander, and smoke from tobacco or wood fires.

Disposable filters can be vacuumed once to extend their use, but then should be discarded. Purchasing permanent washable filters means you’re never caught without and, after the initial expense, can save you money.

Safety First
Clean dust and cobwebs from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Install new batteries. Old batteries may still have some juice, but for safety’s sake, redeploy them in non-critical devices.

Cold weather can strain electrical systems and create fire hazards. Never use extension cords for space heaters or overload a circuit with several heating devices. Keep flammables far from the fireplace.

Candles are cheerful, but can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention to them. Check for lint buildup in dryer vents.

Have your fireplace or woodstove checked, especially the chimney, to ensure there is no blockage or creosote buildup which could cause a dangerous chimney fire. If you use your fireplace or stove for emergency heat, be sure you have seasoned wood available in a protected place that keeps it dry.

Check the expiration date on fire extinguishers.  Have a family fire drill with a rehearsal about how to actually use a fire extinguisher—without discharging it, of course. Remind your whole family of fire safety plans including various exit strategies (such as testing a door for heat before opening it) and especially about a meeting place at a safe distance from the house.

Prepare for Power Losses
Power outages can be especially dangerous if you are dependent on a well pump or medical device, so for safety’s sake backup is available in a variety of prices. Some people opt for a whole-house generator that switches on automatically when the power fails for more than a few seconds. Others choose one they start themselves to serve essential circuits, but not the entire property.

Camping equipment is handy for outages. Break out the camp lanterns, have a flashlight for everyone in the household, and keep plenty of fresh batteries. “Juice packs” that store power for electronic devices often have a built in flashlight. Chemical “snap” lights—also called glowsticks—last up to 12 hours. These are completely safe and provide effective emergency lighting in a hallway or bathroom.

Never use a charcoal grill or even a propane camp stove inside the house because carbon monoxide buildup is life-threatening. 

So take an hour for some August preparations to make your winter more comfortable and—most important—safe for your family.

Marilyn Pribus and her “Mr. Fixit” husband live near Charlottesville. They had a threatening dead hickory removed and he’s splitting that hickory wood to replenish the wood pile for the wood stove on their hearth.

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