Preparing Your Home for a Cold Winter

House in WinterWinter is in full swing, and people everywhere are experiencing wild changes in temperature and weather. It’s important to be prepared for anything, as a very cold weather snap could happen at any time. 

Just because you’re having a mild winter this week doesn’t mean it will stay that way, so take some time to prepare your home for a cold winter.

Avoid a freeze 

Start by seeing to all things water-related, to ensure a sudden freeze won’t cause expensive damage to your home. 

  • Clean GuttersClean out your gutters where necessary to ensure water is flowing easily. Any blockage could create a spot for an ice dam to form. An ice dam could lead to major water damage to your home when that ice begins to thaw.  Make sure rainfall goes where it’s supposed to—through your gutters and downspouts, and isn’t trapped on your roof where it can freeze in place.
  • Monitor DrainageAlso look at the drainage around your house. Does rainfall flow away from your foundation, or is there standing water near your home’s structure? Any water against your home is dangerous in winter. When that water freezes, the expanding ice will cause damage that could let more water in overtime. Keep your property draining properly to avoid this kind of headache.
  • Drain pipes & disconnect hosesAny water pipes that emerge from your house should be shut off and drained. Any water held in those pipes could freeze and expand, causing pipes to burst. This can cause tremendous water damage and require expensive plumbing repairs.  Avoid this by securing all of your outdoor water faucets. Disconnect any hoses, drain them, and put them away for the winter.
  • Insulate hot water pipesAny exposed hot water pipes in your home are wasting energy. You’ll also waste water as you let the faucet run in order to let hot water work its way through your home’s plumbing. Insulate your hot water pipes—you can find affordable pipe wrap at any hardware or home improvement store—this insulation will keep hot water in the pipes hot, and prevent wasted energy and water in the process.  You can also put the pipe wrap on cold water pipes as well; this can keep condensation from forming on the outside of cold-water pipes and avoid water damage in the house. It’s also a good idea to insulate cold water pipes where they enter your home, to avoid potential freezing from outside temperatures.
  • Insulate your water heaterOnly do this if it’s appropriate. Some water heaters are already insulated or don’t need extra insulation. Some models will specifically tell you not to insulate them, so check your water heater’s owner’s manual before you insulate it.  Also, be careful not to cover up a pilot light or gas pipe—you don’t want to trap gas and create a potentially dangerous situation. As long as you do it right and your water heater can benefit from it, insulating your water heater will save you money and keep hot water at the ready.

Heating the home

Another major issue during the winter is keeping your home warm. You can expect to be running your home’s heating system more often, and that means taking some steps to make sure your system is safe and efficient.

  • Check emergency systemsVerify your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries. If you’re going to use your fireplace, it’s especially important that you keep your smoke detectors charged and ready. Also, make sure you have a fire extinguisher in good working order. 
  • Check heating systemIf you haven’t had your furnace or heating system professionally serviced recently, do so before you get any farther into winter. For less than $100, you can ensure that your heating system is running optimally and won’t be likely to fail. Especially if your heating system is more than a few years old, you shouldn’t skimp on this important maintenance. While you’re at it, change your air filters and make sure your ducts are set properly for the season. If you have a multilevel home, it’s likely that your dampers may need to be adjusted for the winter. You’ll want to direct hot air to the main level of your home and let the warm air rise throughout the house. During summer, your dampers should be set to direct cold air to the top level of the home—so if you haven’t adjusted them since the summer, now is definitely the time.
  • Reverse your ceiling fansDuring winter, you want to draw colder air up to the ceiling, pushing warm air out to the edges of the room and down the walls. During summer your fan should push air down in the center of the room. So, if you haven’t switched the direction of your ceiling fans since summer, do so now.
  • Check your fireplaceClean and inspect your fireplace and chimney. If necessary, hire a professional to clean it if you haven’t done so lately. This is important for your family’s safety and for energy efficiency. 
  • Seal leaksCheck your home for drafts. This can be as easy as lighting a candle. Hold the flame a few inches from the edge of doors and windows and look for flickering that results from airflow.  You can also feel for cold air infiltration around leaky windows and doorways, and sometimes you’ll even be able to hear where the wind is making its way inside. Seal up these leaks with weather stripping, caulk, or door sweeps. You pay a lot to keep your home nice and warm, so keep that air inside where it belongs.
  • Insulate your atticAlso consider beefing up the insulation in your attic. Besides blocked gutters, ice dams are caused by heat escaping through your roof. If your roof is giving off uneven temperatures because of poor insulation, ice will form in some spots but melt in others.  The melting ice can get into your house if it runs into an ice dam, and that water infiltration can cause damage, mold, and mildew. Shore up your attic’s insulation to ensure your roof doesn’t have hot and cold spots.

Supplies to have on hand

Do a little extra preparation in case of a worst-case scenario. What will you need if the roads become impassable, or if your electricity goes out during a winter storm?

In your house

  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Ice melt or sand
  • Extra food and water
  • A heat source- like a battery-powered space heater, or indoor kerosene heater
  • Battery backup for your cell phone
  • Snow shovel

In your car

  • Kitty litter (in case you get stuck on an icy spot)
  • Spare blanket or extra coat and gloves
  • Ice scraper
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables

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