The leaves have started to change colours and some are even falling. There’s a chill in the air and although many of us aren’t looking forward for winter to come, it is on its way. Now is the time to prepare your home for the cold months ahead. Taking care of your house in advance will not only save you money but it will also make your house feel more comfortable over the next couple cold months. Here are some tips on how to prepare your home for this winter season:
Turn up your heating system: for roughly $80-$100, a technician will inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is clean and in good shape, and that it can achieve efficiency over the winter. Also ask the technician to inspect for carbon monoxide leaks. If you act soon, you’ll minimize the chance of waiting a long period of time for a technician to come inspect your system before it gets too cold.
Reverse your ceiling fans: if your ceiling fan has a reverse switch, use it to run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction. This will allow the fan to produce an updraft and push down into the room-heated air from the ceiling since hot air rises. This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings—and it might even allow you to turn down your thermostat a few degrees.
Prevent ice dams: if your home had a lot of icicles last winter—or worse, ice dams, which can cause melted water to back up and flow into your house—take steps to prevent potential damage this year. A home-energy auditor or weatherization contractor can identify and fix air leaks and inadequate insulation in your home’s attic.
Look at the roof: look for damaged, loose, or missing shingles that may leak during winter storms or from melting snow. If need be, hire a handyman to repair the damaged shingles (usually costs $95-$130) or a roofer for a larger section (usually costs ($100-$350 for a square foot area). Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vents stacks and chimneys. If your roof is flat and surfaced with asphalt or pebbles, rake or blow off fall leaves and pine needles, which hold moisture.
Caulk around windows & doors: ifthe gaps between the siding and a window or doorframe is bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulking. Check the joints in the window and doorframes too. Silicone caulking is best for exterior use because it won’t shrink and it can hold up to the elements. Try GE’s Silicone II Window and Door product, which is weatherproof (costs $6 at Home Depot). Check window-glazing putty, which seals glass into the window frame. Add weather-stripping as needed around doors, making sure you cannot see any daylight from inside your home.
Clean the gutters: if your gutters are full of debris, water can back up against the house and damage the roofing, siding and trim—plus cause leaks and ice dams. You’ll typically pay $70-$225 to clean gutters on a single story home, depending on its size. Also look for missing or damaged gutters and fascia boards and repair them.
Divert Water: add extensions to downspouts so that water runs at least 3 to 4 feet away from the foundation. Home Depot sells a flexible downspout extension, which extends 25 to 55 inches for $9.
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 10-15 years old typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.
Drain your lawn-irrigation system: call in a professional to do this job. Your sprinkler service will charge $50-$150, depending on the size of the system. Draining sprinkler-system pipes, with spigots will help avoid freezing and leaks.
Mulch leaves when you mow: mow your leaves instead of raking them. 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 blade and optionally swap the cutting blade for a mulching blade (about $15-$25). The process may take several passes.
Prepare to stow your mower: as the mower sits through the winter, fuel in its remaining engine will decompose, ‘varnishing’ the carburetor and causing difficulty when you start the engine. If you’ve added a stabilizer to your fuel to keep it fresh longer, fill the gas tank to the top with more stabilized fuel and run the engine briefly to allow it to circulate. If not, wait until the tank is nearly empty from use and run the engine (outdoors) to use up the remaining fuel. Check your mower’s manual for other cold weather storage steps.
Don’t prune trees or shrubs until late winter: you may be tempted to get out the pruning sheers after the leaves fall, when you can first see the underlying structure of the plant. But horticulturalists advise waiting to prune until late winter for most plants, when they’ve been long dormant and just before spring growth begins. You may need to hire an arbourist to remove deadfall or trim limbs close to your home or power lines that could cause problems in a winter storm.
Call a chimney sweep: before burning the Yule log, make sure your fireplace (or any heating appliance burning gas, oil, wood or coal), chimney and vents are clean and in good repair. That will prevent chimney fires and prevent carbon monoxide from creeping into your home.
Restock winter essentials: don’t wait for the first winter storm to restock cold-weather essentials, such as salt or ice melt.
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