The Autumn wind has been getting cooler and snow has already begun to fly! Is your home prepared for Winter's ice, snow, wind and salt? Keep your property safe by following these 10 steps before those flurries accumulate.
1. Clean Your Gutters. Remove all of the fallen leaves and debris by hand and then spray the gutters down thoroughly with a garden hose (Always use caution and be sure your ladder is stable!). Clogged gutters can lead to ice dams which cause water to back up, freeze and expand causing cracks in your gutter and potential leaks into your home. As you're cleaning, look for cracks and be sure that the down spout leads water away from the foundation to avoid flooding. A good rule of thumb is to direct water at least 10 feet away from your home's foundation.
2. Block All Drafts. One of the best ways to prepare your home (and your wallet!) for the cold is to find and seal air leaks inside and out. First, find the drafts: on a breezy day walk around the inside of your home holding a candle, or lit stick of incense to the most problematic areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames and electrical outlets are commonly drafty. Next, buy door sweeps to close gaps under exterior doors. Apply caulk, or temporary caulk, to drafty window and door frames. For especially tough windows, purchase shrink wrapping kits at your local hardware store for further insulation. Outside, use masonry sealer or weather resistant caulk to seal even small holes--you will keep cold air out and deter pests from nesting.
3. Add Insulation. Installing extra insulation to your attic comes with an initial investment, but the money you'll save in heating costs will more than make up for it. As a rule of thumb, you need a minimum of 12" of insulation in your attic. As you inspect the room, check to see if you the ceiling joists are visible. If so, you will know to add more as those joists are only 10-11".
4. Check The Furnace. First, before it gets cold enough to need the furnace, turn it on to be sure it is functioning. A short-lasting smell is normal, but if it persists, shut the furnace off and call a professional. Having your furnace cleaned and inspected annually will cost generally between $100-$125 and will ensure your home remains safe and warm.
5. Get Your Ducts In A Row. A home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its hot air before it even reaches vents if ducts are not properly connected and insulated, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Ducts aren't always easy to see but are sometimes exposed in attics, basements and crawl spaces. Fix gaps and pinched areas and to prevent malfunction and fire hazards, vacuum once every other year to keep dust and build up clear.
6. Prepare Your Windows. Take down your screens and put up storm windows to provide an extra layer of wind and element protection. These are particularly helpful if your windows are dated or single-pane. If your windows are drafty, they need to be updated which is easier said than done. If cost is an issue, replace a few at a time when you are able. If your windows are especially drafty, look into shrink wrapping kits which provide a simple, cost effective solution. The kit includes putty to seal cracks, tape and clear wrap to go over the glass and frame. A hair dryer is used to shrink the plastic and provide an air-tight seal. You will know the seal is perfect if on a windy day you notice the plastic balloons slightly with air.
7. Check The Chimney. Your chimney doesn't necessarily need to be swept every year, but it should be inspected before use. Wood stoves, however, need to be swept often-every 1/4" of ash requires a cleaning. If you have a wood fireplace, keep the damper closed when not in use to prevent draft. Tip: Buy a protective chimney cap with a screen to keep debris, including birds and animals, out.
8. Put It In Reverse. One thing most people never consider is the direction of their ceiling fan blades. In the Summer, the blades should push warm air upward. In the Winter, you want just the opposite. Reverse the fan blades so that they turn counterclockwise and make the most of the warm air.
9. Wrap Pipes. Before Jack Frost pays his first visit, be sure to shut off your outdoor water supply, bleed the line and store garden hoses. Next, go looking for any pipes that run through unheated areas (basements, crawl spaces, garages, etc.) and wrap them with pre-molded foam or fiberglass insulation to prevent sudden bursts.
10. Alarm Check. Daylight savings is the perfect time to test your smoke alarms and CO2 detectors and replace their batteries. Test older alarms with a small amount of smoke and not just the "test" button to be sure they are fully functional. This is also a good time to locate your fire extinguisher and make sure it is working and easily accessible.