10 Ways to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Now that fall is officially here, it's time to prepare your home for cold weather. These steps, most of which you can do yourself, will help lower your utility bills and protect your investment.

1. Tune up your heating system:

For about $80 to $100, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good repair, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection also measures carbon-monoxide leakage.

2. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

If your ceiling fan has a reverse switch, use it to run the fan's blades in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. Energy Star says the fan will produce an updraft and push down into the room heated air from the ceiling (remember, hot air rises).

This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings -- and it might even allow you to turn down your thermostat by a degree or two for greater energy savings.

3. Prevent Ice Dams

If your home had lots of icicles last winter -- or worse, ice dams, which can cause meltwater to back up and flow into your house -- take steps to prevent potential damage this year.

4. Hit the roof

Or at least scan it closely with binoculars. Look for damaged, loose or missing shingles that may leak during winter’s storms or from melting sno

If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles ($95 to $127, according to www.costhelper.com) or a roofer for a larger section ($100 to $350 for a 100-square-foot area). Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.

5. Caulk around windows and doors

The gaps between siding and window or door frames are bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk. (Check the joints in window and door frames, too.) Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it won’t shrink and it’s impervious to the elements.

Try GE's Silicone II Window and Door product, which is “rain ready” in three ($6 at Home Depot). Check window-glazing putty, too (which seals glass into the window frame). Add weatherstripping as needed around doors, making sure you cannot see any daylight from inside your home.

6. Clean the gutters

If your gutters are full of detritus, water can back up against the house and damage roofing, siding and wood trim -- plus cause leaks and ice dams.

7. Divert water

Add extensions to downspouts so that water runs at least 6 feet away from the foundation

8. Turn off exterior faucets

Undrained water in pipes can freeze, which will cause pipes to burst as the ice expands. Start by disconnecting all garden hoses and draining the water that remains in faucets.

If you don’t have frost-proof faucets (homes more than ten to 15 years old typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.

9. Darin your lawn irrigation system

But call in a professional to do the job. Your sprinkler service will charge $50 to $150, depending on the size of the system.

Draining sprinkler-system pipes, as with spigots, will help avoid freezing and leaks.

10. Mulch Leaves When You Mow

 Mow your leaves instead of raking them, say studies at the University of Michigan and Purdue. The trick is to cut the leaves, while dry, into dime-sized pieces that will fall among the grass blades, where they will decompose and nourish your lawn over the winter.

Use your lawn mower without its bag, and optionally swap the cutting blade for a mulching blade (about $15 to $25). The process may take several passes.

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