Preparing Your Home for Winter

Prepare for Winter: Is Your House Really Ready?

Winter loses much of its charm when childhood ends. Then it becomes a 5-month montage of slick pavement, thick blankets and salt-enrusted vehicles. You can take some of the sting out of the season by starting early to prepare for winter before it arrives in earnest. That way, you don't have to scramble when freezing weather arrives and can instead be cozy and warm, sipping hot cocoa while you watch your neighbor struggling to cover the air conditioner while the wind is ripping at the tarp.

Keep Warm on the Inside

Start at the Top

Hot air rises, and proper attic insulation is key to keeping it from rising out of your house. A good rule of thumb is to look for the joists — the wooden beams on the floor of your attic. If you can see them, you need more insulation.

The R-value is a rating of a material's ability to prevent heat from flowing through it. The higher the rating, the better the insulation. Most attics should be insulated to an R-value of 38, which translates to 12 to 15 inches of insulation. Insulate attics in colder areas to an R-value of 49 — 18 or more inches of insulation.

Seal leaks

Where air gets in, heat gets out, so block the air leaks that drain your wallet.

Replace worn or missing weather-stripping around all doors and windows, and replace worn doorstops. Use caulk to seal gaps around the door and window frames. Install storm doors and windows, if you have them, and winterize your basement windows with storm windows, heat shrink plastic or window-well covers — or all three.

Install outlet gaskets around electrical plugs on the inside of exterior walls. Outlet gaskets are thin sheets of foam insulation that fit right over the plugs, under the outlet cover.

Finally, remember to close the flue damper when you aren’t using the fireplace, to keep warm air from flying out the chimney.

Tune Up the Heat

A clean furnace runs more efficiently, so have a professional clean and tune up your furnace to make sure all components work properly and to warn you of possible problems. After that, check the furnace filter monthly throughout the winter. If your furnace uses fiberglass filters, replace them when they get dirty. Clean electrostatic or electronic filters.

If you don't have a programmable thermostat, now is an excellent time to get one. They aren't expensive, and they reduce your heating bill. Program it to turn down the heat when you’re away and at bedtime, then to warm up the house before you get up in the morning and again before you get home from work.

Prep the Plumbing

You've heard horror stories of pipes that burst in freezing weather. In regions where the ground is frozen for months, shut off the water to outdoor faucets and leave them open until they drain out. If you have exposed pipes in unheated areas, wrap them with insulating foam or, if you feel there is a high risk of freezing, use electric heating cables designed for water pipes.

In regions where freezing is unusual, the accepted practice when a rare hard freeze is predicted is to leave every faucet trickling overnight.

It is also a good idea to know where and how to shut off your household water, in case of flooding or other watery emergencies.

Protect the Outside

Ready the Roof

Repair any loose shingles and make sure the flashing on your chimney and vents is water-tight — if you suspect that it is not, bring in a professional. If you don’t have a screened chimney cap, installing one will keep leaves and other debris from falling down your chimney.

Cut back any branches rubbing against your roof or house.

Clean out your gutters and repair any damage. Be sure the downspouts discharge at least six feet away from the house.

Examine the Exterior

Repair gaps and cracks in the foundation that can let in cold air and repair any damage to bricks, mortar or siding. Use foam insulation, weather-stripping and caulking to seal all the areas where pipes, ducts and wires enter the house.

Shut off the exterior switch that controls the air conditioner —look for a metal case attached to the house near the unit — and secure a plastic tarp over the air conditioner.

Stock Up

Winter can bring power outages, storms and other nasty surprises, so have your winter supplies ready (in addition to the cocoa).

  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Candles and matches
  • Charcoal or propane for your barbeque
  • Battery-powered radio with extra batteries, or a wind-up radio
  • Snow shovels and sidewalk de-icer
  • Bottled water — stored where it won’t freeze — and enough cans of non-perishable food to last a few days
  • Hand-operated can opener
  • Paper plates, and plastic utensils and cups
  • Extra firewood for your fireplace, fuel for your generator or a kerosene heater and kerosene (Use carbon monoxide monitoring strips whenever you use a kerosene heater to prevent asphyxiation.)
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