By Marilyn Pribus –
Yes, we know it’s still pretty warm around here these days, but Mother Nature is dusting off her ski parka. Time to beat her to the punch by preparing your property for cold weather.
“For most people, the family home is one of their most valuable assets,” declares REALTOR® Kelly Ceppa with Charlottesville’s Nest Realty. “It makes good sense to maintain it regularly as you would any other asset you want to serve you well for a long time.”
Here are some reminders to get your home ready for winter.
Walk around the outside of your property, inspecting for cracks or loose shingles on the siding or roof. After dark, look around doors and windows for light shining from inside and mark these air leaks for caulking.
Search for spots where critters looking for a cozy, warm winter den might sneak in. (Amazingly, a mouse can slip through an opening the size of a nickel.)
Check for ailing trees that could fall on your roof, power lines, or driveway.
Forestall ice dams that can cause roof leaks or lead to gutters breaking off from the eaves by removing leaves from the gutters and downspouts. There are adapters to connect to a hose to wash out debris and many leaf blowers have attachments that can blow the gutter clear.
Shinny up into the attic to check for moisture or visible leaks in your roof and repair if needed. If you have some sort of trap door for attic access, cover it with insulation.
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 with a fairly heavy stuffing such as rice or beans, acts as a draft blocker. There are easy directions online.
Have your heat pump or furnace professionally serviced right now because that first cold spell finds 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.
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 your air filters, whether disposable or washable. 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 discard and install a new one. Some people employ permanent washable filters which means you’re never caught without a filter and, after the initial expense, can save you money.
Clean dust and cobwebs from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Install new batteries even if the old batteries still have some juice. For safety’s sake, redeploy them in less important devices.
Cold weather can overload electrical systems and create fire hazards. Never use extension cords for space heaters and don’t overload circuits 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. And keep an eye out for our upcoming September feature all about heating with wood.
Check the expiration date on your 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.
Power outages can be especially frustrating if you are dependent on a well pump or medical device. Without power you can’t use the garage door opener, the invisible fence won’t keep the dog at home, and you won’t be able to recharge cell phones and laptops. (If you have the correct cord, you can recharge a cell in your car.)
Electric backup comes in a variety of prices for different applications. Some people opt for a whole-house generator that switches on automatically when the power fails. Others choose one they start themselves to serve essential circuits, but not the entire property.
Prepare for outages with a camp lantern, a flashlight for everyone in the household, and plenty of fresh batteries. “Juice packs” which store power for electronic devices often have a built in flashlight. Chemical “snap” lights—also called glowsticks—last up to 12 hours. These are effective to provide emergency lighting in a hallway or bathroom and are far safer than candles.
“Deferred maintenance will damage the value of your home as well as its function,” concludes REALTOR® Ceppa. “If you change the oil and repair your car regularly, shouldn’t you do the same (or more!) for an asset that is worth many times more than your car?”
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live near Charlottesville. He has replaced weather stripping on the front door and they’ve laid in a supply of fresh flashlight batteries plus a couple of glow-sticks.