As the seasons change, so do the things around your home. Here is Lorynne Lofsky-Cadman’s guide to help keep your home in top shape by preparing it for the cold.
Get your mind INTO the gutters. Your roof's drainage system annually diverts thousands of gallons of water from your house's exterior and foundation walls. That's why it is so important to keep this system flowing smoothly. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion which could lead to pest problems. Before the leaves fly this fall, have your gutters cleaned, then covered with mesh guards to keep debris from returning.
Get caulking. A home with air leaks around windows and doors is like a coat left unbuttoned. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a up to 10% of your heating bills. Weather-stripping is easily the most cost-effective way to rein in heating and cooling costs. This humble material also reduces drafts and keeps your home more comfortable year-round. Because weather stripping can deteriorate over time, it is important to inspect it annually.
While you're at it, also check for missing or damaged caulk around windows, doors, and entry points for electrical, cable, phone, gas, and so. Seal any gaps with a suitable caulking. This not only helps to keep the home in good maintenance, but helps to prevent any additional deterioration.
Get on top of roof problems. Few homeowner problems are more vexing than a leaky roof. Once the dripping starts, finding the source of the problem can be time-consuming. Stop problems this fall before ice and winter winds turn them from annoyances into disasters. To do this, you must inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon.
Walk the walks (and drives). Damaged walkways, drives, and steps are a hazard year round, but their dangers are compounded when the weather turns icy. Fixing problems in the fall is also critical to preventing little problems from becoming expensive headaches. Look for cracks more than approximately 1/8” wide, uneven sections, and loose railings on steps. Check for disintegration of asphalt, or washed-out materials on loose-fill paths.
Most small jobs are well within the ability of a do-it-yourselver, but save major repairs for experienced hands. Ensure the parging on your home is also in a good state of repair. If not, have this fixed before the cold weather. This is a weather sensitive project, so make sure you do it at the right temperature and the right weather (no rain)
Turn them out. Take the steps to ensure that outside faucets and in ground irrigation systems don't freeze and burst. Close any shut-off valves serving outside faucets, then open the outside faucet to drain the line. (There may be a small cap on the faucet you can loosen to facilitate this draining.) If you don't have shut-off valves, and your faucets are not "freezeproof " types, you may benefit from styrofoam faucet covers sold at most home centers. To freezeproof an in ground irrigation system, follow the manufacturer's procedure for draining it and protecting it from winter damage.
Freshen Up. The season change is a great way to remember to change your furnace filter. Furnace filters trap dust that would otherwise be deposited through your home. Clogged filters make it harder to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, and can serious increase your utility bills. A simple monthly cleaning is all it takes to keep these filters breathing free and clear.
Give your furnace a physical. Once a year, it's a good idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional. To avoid the last-minute rush, consider scheduling this task in early fall, before the heating season begins.
Gather round the hearth. Even if you use your fireplace only occasionally, you should check it annually for damage and hazards. Creosote is a flammable by-product of burning wood. If it accumulates in a flue or chimney, the result can be a devastating fire. Have your chimney inspected annually for creosote buildup. If you use a fireplace or wood stove frequently, have the flue inspected after each cord of wood burned.
For most people, the best option is to have your entire chimney system inspected by a chimney sweep. Once you know what to look for, you can perform the inspection by shining a bright flashlight up the flue, looking for any deposits approaching 1/8 inch thick. These deposits should be cleaned by an experienced chimney sweep. Birds love to nest at the top of an unprotected flue, so check for any blockages. A chimney cap can prevent this from happening. If you don't have a cap, look up the flu to ensure that there are no obstructions. The damper is the metal plate that opens and closes the flu just above the firebox. Move it to the open and closed positions to ensure that it is working properly.
Make certain that the flue cap (the screen or baffle covering the top of the chimney) is in place. Inspect the brick chimneys on the exterior for loose or broken joints. If access is a problem, use binoculars.
Keep the humidifier humming. You may know that bone dry winter air is bad for your health, but did you also know it can make fine wood more prone to cracking? You and your home will feel more comfortable if you keep your central humidifier in tip-top shape during the months it is running. You can have a plug in portable one, or a central one attached to the furnace. Once you turn the furnace on, ensure you turn the humidifier on as well to the appropriate setting.
My precious garage. Time to put away the lawn mower and break out the snow blower. Change the oil in these machines, and get them ready to sit (lawn mower) and get used (snow blower). Hang up any gardening tools, bikes, etc. and break out the shovels and snow brushes. Sweep out the garage and get things organized for the winter so that the car can fit in the garage.
Goodbye beautiful. By now the garden is starting to look a little depressing. Cut back any shrubs and cover any sensitive plants. Bring into the house or garage and sculptures, flower pots, etc. that cannot withstand the cold and dampness. I recommend to even bring in patio furniture to extend its life.
General cleanup. Rid your home of accumulations of old newspapers and leftover hazardous household chemicals. Store flammable materials and poisons in approved, clearly labeled containers. Keep a clear space around heaters, furnaces, and other heat-producing appliances.
Smoke and CO detectors. This is a perfect time to replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven't already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement, and ensure that you have one outside ALL bedrooms (mandatory by the Ontario Building Code)
Fire extinguishers. Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher rated for all fire types. At a minimum, keep one near the kitchen; having one per floor isn't a bad idea. Annually, check the indicator on the pressure gauge to make sure the extinguisher is charged. Make certain that the lock pin is intact and firmly in place, and check that the discharge nozzle is not clogged. Clean the extinguisher and check it for dents, scratches, and corrosion. Replace if the damage seems severe. Note: Fire extinguishers that are more than six years old should be replaced. Mark the date of purchase on the new unit with a permanent marker.
Fire escape plans. Every bedroom, including basement bedrooms, should have two exit paths. Make sure windows aren't blocked by furniture or other items. Ideally, each upper-floor bedroom should have a rope ladder near the window for emergency exits. Review what to do in case of fire, and arrange a safe meeting place for everyone away from the house.
For more information, or for any professionals to assist with any of your winterizing, visit www.lorynnelofsky.com.