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How To Get Your Home Ready For Cold Weather

Hanna KielarOctober 03, 2019

The goal of winterizing your home is to prepare for the cold winter months ahead. By properly winterizing your home, you can ensure your equipment and utilities run smoothly, lower your monthly heating bills, and prevent disasters such as frozen pipes and heating equipment failures.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Unfortunately, cold winter temperatures can cause your pipes to freeze and wreak havoc on your lifestyle and bank account. The good news is you can prevent frozen pipes and potentially save tens of thousands of dollars in repairs while minimizing disruptions to your everyday life.

Maintain Adequate Heat

To protect your pipes from freezing, keep the temperature in your home set to at least 60 degrees. This is quite important as most insurance companies will only pay out for a frozen pipe claim if you’re maintaining at least 55 degrees.

If you’d like to save money on heating costs by turning your thermostat down when you’re not home, avoid going below 60 degrees unless you plan on completely draining the plumbing system of water (common if you won’t be visiting a home for the winter months).

Protect Pipes In Exterior Walls

If you have pipes going to an exterior hose bib for a garden hose hookup, they can freeze during the cold winter months, even if you maintain 60 degrees in your home. To protect these higher risk hose bibs, you should:

●      Disconnect and store any connected hoses.

●      Turn off the shut-off valve inside your home that supplies water to the hose bib.

●      Open the outside hose bib valve to allow any remaining water in the hose bib to drain out.

Insulate And Seal Your Crawl Space

Some homes have a heated basement while others are built on top of crawl spaces. If your home features a crawl space, you’ll have to take extra steps to prevent the pipes located in the crawl space from freezing during the winter season.

This is mainly because your crawl space depends on proper insulation, adequate sealing and conductive heat transfer from your above living spaces for heat. Here are a few tips for winterizing and improving your crawl space:

●      Insulate any water pipes with foam insulation to help prevent them from freezing.

●      Inspect the vapor barrier to ensure it covers the entire length of the house and that water has not puddled anywhere.

●      Close off any crawl space vents and place insulation over the openings.

●      Seal any holes with caulking or spray foam to prevent cold winter air from infiltrating your crawl space.

●      Insulate and seal around the rim joists in your crawl space.

Weather Proofing Your Doors And Windows

If your home lacks proper sealing, cold air can infiltrate your living spaces, create cold drafts and force your heating equipment to run for longer periods of time. Fortunately, there are easy and affordable ways you can improve the sealing of your doors and windows and avoid these issues.

Replace Your Screen Door With A Storm Door

A screen door isn’t designed to protect the cold winter air from making its way to your main door. Therefore, it’s a good idea to replace it with a storm door. A storm door features a glass panel instead of a screen and helps block air from leaking into your home. The glass panel and frame come in varying shades, colors and designs so you can find one to match the unique style of your home.

Sealing Your Exterior Doors

One of the main pathways for air to leak into your home is between the perimeter of the door and the frame or side jambs. Reduce the air leakage through your exterior doors by following these tips:

●      Seal the gap between the door and frame by adding weather stripping or replacing it if it already exists.

●      Install a door sweep at the bottom of your door to block the cold air.

Sealing Your Windows

Another potential air leakage path is around the perimeter of your windows. Improving the air tightness of your windows is a great way to lower your heating bills and reduce drafts in your home. To do so, follow these steps:

●      Determine which windows are leaking. On a cold day, run the back of your hand along the interior frame of the window. If you feel cold air, the window is drafty and a perfect candidate for improvement.

●      After locating any leaky windows, use an exterior-rated caulk to seal around the exterior perimeter of the window. You can also use caulk to seal the cracks between the interior window trim and the wall.

●      Window film is an inexpensive, easy to install and effective method of improving the thermal performance of your windows. You can purchase a window film kit at your local home improvement store.

Inspect And Clean Your Fireplace And Chimney

If you expect to use a wood burning fireplace or stove during the coming winter months but haven’t had it inspected and cleaned within the last year, have it serviced by a professional chimney sweeping service. This is important for the following reasons.

Reduce The Risk Of A Fire

Burning firewood creates a buildup of creosote on the inside of your chimney or flue. If the built-up creosote ignites, it can catch wooden roof members and your house on fire. Having an annual inspection and cleaning significantly reduces your risk of a house fire.

Extend The Life Of Your Fireplace And Chimney

Like everything else on Earth, fireplaces and chimneys have an expiration date. For this reason, it’s well worth it to have your fireplace and chimney cleaned. Doing so can reduce the speed at which they deteriorate.

Prevent Smoke Damage

If your fireplace, damper, chimney or flue are blocked by a buildup of soot and creosote, smoke will have nowhere to go besides into your living space. Smoke and other byproducts of combustion can damage your property and put your family at risk of smoke inhalation, making a clean fireplace and chimney essential.

HVAC Maintenance

Even if your home is perfectly insulated and sealed, it won’t be able to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter without a properly functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Regardless of whether you have a furnace, boiler, heat pump or some other form of heating equipment, regular maintenance and service will help to keep your HVAC system running smoothly when you need it most. To prepare your home’s HVAC system for winter, follow these important steps:

Hire A Professional HVAC Company To Perform A Fall Tuneup

Due to the hazards and special knowledge required for working with gas, refrigerant and electricity, an HVAC inspection and service should be performed by a professional. Schedule a fall tuneup with a trusted local HVAC company to improve your equipment’s efficiency and ensure it has what it takes to heat your home properly this coming winter.

DIY Maintenance Of HVAC Equipment

Although some HVAC services should be left to the professionals, there are certain tasks you can perform on your own to keep your equipment running at its optimal condition. Here are a few examples of these DIY tasks:

●      Keep the area around your heating equipment free of your personal belongings to allow for proper airflow and reduce the risk of a fire caused by combustible materials being too close to your heating equipment.

●      If you have a furnace or heat pump, change the filter at least once every 3 months. In the event you have pets or a particularly dusty home, you may be better off changing the filter every month.

●      Use a Shop-Vac® with a soft-bristled brush to vacuum the inside of your furnace in and around the burners, gas control valve, blower fan and inducer fan. This will increase the equipment’s efficiency and life span while reducing the risk of carbon monoxide.

Upgrade Your Thermostat

If you have an older thermostat, upgrade to either a 7-day programmable thermostat or a smart thermostat. Doing so is a good idea because most older thermostats do not have a programmable schedule, making it more difficult to dial back the temperature and save on heating costs.

Programmable Thermostats

A programmable thermostat can be purchased online or at a home improvement store. It can allow you to preprogram your thermostat based on your schedule. For example, you can program your thermostat to a lower setpoint when you leave for work and then raise the setpoint back up an hour before you come home.

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat is a programmable thermostat with some advanced features. Smart thermostat features often include the following:

●      The ability to control the thermostat from your phone: If you go away on vacation but forget to change the setpoints, you’ll have nothing to worry about. You can simply open the app on your phone and adjust the setpoints to save energy.

●      Alerts if the temperature is too low or too high: If your heating or cooling system breaks down while you’re away, you’d have no idea unless you have a smart thermostat. A smart thermostat allows you to check your home’s temperature remotely or set up alerts so that you’re notified on your phone every time a temperature gets too low or too high.

Clean Your Gutters Before Winter

Clean gutters are important as they direct melting snow and water away from your home. If your gutters are clogged with leaves and other debris, they won’t be able to perform their intended function. Therefore, it’s essential to clean your gutters before the winter hits. Here are some gutter cleaning tips to help you out:

●      Use an extension ladder with standoff stabilizers to prevent the ladder from lying on the gutters themselves and causing damage.

●      Start at the downspout and use your hands and a pair of gloves or a small garden towel to scoop out the debris.

●      Use a hose to flush out and clean the smaller debris. If you don’t see water coming out of the outlet of the downspout, the downspout may have a clog. In this case, aim the hose directly down the downspout to try to clear it.

If you’d rather not get up on a ladder and clean your gutters, you can always hire a professional gutter cleaning company.

Water Heater Maintenance Before Winter

Having hot water available for a shower or bath is almost a necessity in the winter months. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can extend the life of your water heater and ensure it will get you through the winter. We recommend the following:

Keep The Area Clean

Don’t store things around your water heater and keep the space clean. Just like people, water heaters need their space. Gas-fired water heaters require adequate airflow for combustion, so personal belongings that are placed up against the water heater can affect the water heater’s performance and create a fire hazard.

Flush The Water Heater

A water heater continuously accumulates scale and sediment at the bottom of the tank that decreases its efficiency and life span. Therefore, it’s important to flush your water heater at least once per year. To flush your water heater, follow these steps:

1.     Turn off the gas (if gas-fired) or power at the breaker (if an electric water heater).

2.     Close the shut-off valve at the cold inlet to the water heater.

3.     Attach a short length of hose to the water heater drain valve at the bottom and route it to a nearby drain.

4.     On a faucet or shower, turn on the hot water.

5.     Open the water heater’s drain valve and allow the water heater to drain through the hose and down the drain.

6.     Open and close the water heater’s shut-off valve at the cold inlet to introduce fresh water to aid in the flushing process. Repeat until clear water is draining from the hose.

7.     Once finished, close the drain valve and open the shut-off valve at the water heater’s cold inlet. Close the hot water faucet once the water heater has filled.  Turn the gas back on and relight the pilot light (if gas-fired) or turn the electric back on.

Closing Thoughts

If you’d like your home, equipment and appliances to not only survive the winter, but thrive throughout the season, you can’t overlook the importance of winterizing your home. Since some of these tasks require technical knowledge of your home and can involve working on ladders or with gas or electricity, don’t hesitate to call a professional if you feel more comfortable doing so. However, if you wish to save money and enjoy doing a little work on your home, you may want to tackle some (or even all) of these tasks yourself.

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Rocket Companies focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.