A Checklist to Prepare for Winter
Good old Mother Nature has announced the coming of winter with several frosty mornings and The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a super-cold winter in our area. Never fear! There’s still plenty of time to prepare for potential problems. Here’s a checklist of reminders to get your home set for what’s ahead.
1. Now is the time to check for ailing trees that could fall on your house or power lines. Hiring an arborist to evaluate your trees is an option, but you can keep an eye out yourself. Are there branches that lose their leaves way ahead of the rest of the tree? Do shrubs have branches that already sag down in a heavy rain and so have the potential to break off during a heavy snow or ice storm?
2. Once the leaves have fallen, it’s essential to clean out gutters to prevent them from creating ice dams that can force water up under the shingles creating leaks or break off the gutters themselves. Don’t forget to clean out downspouts. There are hose adapters to wash out leaves and debris and some leaf blowers have attachments that can blow the gutter clear. If you aren’t inclined to clamor up a ladder, there may be a neighborhood teen eager for some extra money.
3. Do some reconnaissance around the house. Inspect for lose shingles on the siding or 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.
4. Drain and shut off exterior spigots to prevent them from freezing. Drain hoses and store them in a place they will not freeze.
5. If you haven’t already turned on your heat pump or furnace, check it out. That first really cold spell finds many heating repair companies overwhelmed. Replace your furnace filter. Disposables can be vacuumed once to extend their use, but then discard and install a new one.
6. Consider having your heating system professionally serviced. If it’s more than 15 years old, you might find that replacement equipment is considerably more efficient. In our climate, heat pumps are effective except in the very coldest weather.
7. Be sure your heating registers haven’t become blocked by rugs, pets, or toys.
8. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, have it checked, especially the chimney to ensure there is no blockage or creosote buildup which could cause a dangerous chimney fire.
9. Clean dust and cobwebs from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and install new batteries. If the old batteries still have some life in them, use them in other, less important devices.
10. Cold weather often puts stress on electrical systems, so be extra aware of potential fire hazards. Don’t use extension cords for space heaters. Don’t overload circuits with several heating devices. Keep flammables far from the fireplace. Check for lint buildup in dryer vents.
11. Check the expiration date on your fire extinguishers. (You do have fire extinguishers, right?) Have a fire drill with a reminder lesson about how to actually use a fire extinguisher—without discharging it, of course. Review your fire safety plans with the whole family, reminding them of various exit strategies and especially about a meeting place at a safe distance from the house.
12. On a chilly night, walk around inside your house checking for drafts. Some people make this tour with a candle, watching for flickering which can signal a leak. Add weather-stripping. Seal leaks with caulk. For air leaks under 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 on the Internet.
13. Don’t get caught with your snow shovel buried under summer stuff at the back of the garage or shed. Replenish your supply of pet-safe, plant-safe ice melting materials.
14. If you use a fireplace or stove for emergency heat, be sure you have a sufficient supply of seasoned wood in a protected place that keeps it dry.
15. If you live in an area that often experiences power outages—especially if you are dependent on a well pump or medical device–consider an emergency generator. 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 home circuits, but not the entire property.
16. Finally, for the times when the power goes out, stock up on flashlights and batteries. “Juice packs” which can store power for electronic devices often have a built in flashlight. Chemical “snap” light sticks—also called glowsticks—are also great, especially for children and last up to 12 hours. These are effective in a bathroom or hallway overnight to provide emergency lighting and are completely safe.
Follow up on this checklist and be prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store for us this winter.
By Marilyn Pribus
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live near Charlottesville. When their sons were in their teens they earned money every fall by cleaning out gutters in the neighborhood.