Although we still can expect plenty of warm weather in Central Virginia, days are getting shorter, evenings are getting cooler with hints of fall and—well, it’s true—winter is coming. The 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac—traditionally about 80 percent accurate—predicts this winter will be colder than last year, but with less overall snowfall in our region.
It’s time to start thinking about winter prep, so here’s a handy checklist of reminders to get set for what’s ahead.
1. Clean patio and lawn furniture, umbrellas, seasonal toys and such with a mild bleach solution to prevent mildew. Rinse very thoroughly and be sure items are completely dry before storing away for the season.
2. Scrub the grill. Use that wire brush vigorously. If your grill is propane fired, remove the fuel tank and store in a frost-free area. Plan where you will store the grill out of the weather. If you don’t have shed or garage space, check that your grill cover is still in good shape.
3. Prepare your deck for winter by removing dirt, mildew, or barbecue stains. If your deck is wood, mildew and debris can eventually damage the surface, so it’s important to get rid of “stuff” both on and between the boards. (If you have a composite deck, it’s still important to clean it, but you won’t need to take all the following steps.)
4. Clean thoroughly with a bleach-free wood-formula cleanser. In most cases you can use a spray applicator attached to your garden hose, but be prepared to use some elbow grease with a scrub brush for stubborn spots. If the surface is especially difficult to clean, consider power washing, but be aware this can damage the wood if the setting is too high.
5. Once your deck is clean, inspect the surface, handrails, steps, and supporting posts for loose nails or screws as well as damaged, soft, or rotten sections. Make repairs if necessary. When the deck is clean and dry, apply a water-repellent finish to protect it against the soggy days of winter. This is the most important step for protecting the deck because it prevents water from penetrating the wood then alternately freezing and thawing.
Consult with your local paint store or home supply center for recommendations. You’ll find there are many effective exterior wood finishes from clear water-repellent finishes to semi-transparent or solid stains. These will thwart splitting, cracking and warping.
6. If you have gas-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, chain saws or leaf blowers, either empty the tanks or add a fuel stabilizer to the tank. Store in a freeze-free place.
7. Turn off the water supply to outside spigots to prevent frozen pipes. Empty hoses and store in a frost-free spot.
8. Check for items that might freeze in a shed or garage and store them somewhere warmer. Paint, for example, shouldn’t be allowed to freeze and aerosol cans can be damaged. Some plastic items don’t do well with being frozen and items like motor oil or car wax are better stored in freeze-free areas.
9. Lift your eyes up to check for ailing trees that could fall on your house or power lines. Are there branches that lose their leaves way ahead of the rest of the tree? This is a warning sign. Do shrubs have branches that already sag in a heavy rain? Prune them back so they don’t break off during a heavy snow or ice storm.
10. Once the leaves have fallen, clean out gutters to prevent them from creating ice dams that can cause leaks by forcing water up under the shingles or even cause the gutters to break off. Don’t forget the downspouts. There are hose adapters to wash out leaves and debris and some leaf blowers have attachments that can whoosh the gutter clear. If you aren’t inclined to shinny up a ladder, hire someone. And for next year, consider gutter guards, especially for difficult-to-reach sections.
11. Do some reconnaissance around the house. Inspect for breaks in the siding or loose shingles on the roof. Check for spots where critters looking for a warm winter den might sneak in. After dark, look around doors and windows for light shining from inside and mark these air leaks for caulking.
12. If your heat pump or furnace hasn’t been on for a while, consider having it professionally serviced. A number of area service companies run specials this time of year and some electric companies offer rebates toward getting your equipment tuned up. Don’t get caught short during that first really cold spell when many heating repair companies are overwhelmed. Replace your furnace filter. Disposables can be vacuumed once to extend their use, but then it’s time to discard old filters in favor of fresh ones.
Follow up on this checklist and be prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store for us this winter.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. They faithfully use this check list every year.