Now that fall is officially here, it’s time to Prepare Your Home for Winter. These steps, most of which you can do yourself, will help lower your utility bills and protect your investment.
Tune Up Your Heating System
Your ducts can contribute to inefficiency in your HVAC system for a couple of reasons. In fact, your ducts can account for approximately 20 percent of your energy usage when you run your heating and cooling systems. Poor insulation, leaks, disconnected segments, and excessive dirt or other blockages can cause problems with airflow, leading to greater energy use and higher bills. Air duct cleaning provides a beginning in optimizing your duct function while providing the opportunity for other issues to be assessed.
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.
If you act soon, you’ll minimize the chance of being 200th in line for repairs on the coldest day of the year. Look for a heating and air-conditioning contractor that belongs to the better contractors bureau and employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program. The contractor should follow the protocol for ACCAs “national standard for residential maintenance” (or the QM, short for “quality maintenance”
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.
Prevent Ice Dams
If your home had lots of icicles last winter — or worse, ice dams, which can cause melt 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 that can lead to ice dams.
Rooftop Snow and Ice Removal Services
Craftsman Home Remodeling work to protect homes during extreme weather conditions, year round. Properly installed roofing solutions, including proper attic ventilation and insulation can help a home resist heavy snow buildup and ice dams. However, snow and ice is inevitable during the winter months. Homeowners in the Rochester New York Area, Have counted on Craftsman Home Remodeling for over 50 years for Ice and Snow Removal.
The first step to minimizing ice dams is to remove excess snow from your roof top. To combat damage from snow and ice build-up we offer the following services:
• Rake/remove snow from roof
• Chip channels in ice dams
• Inspect ventilation systems where ice dams form
• Correct heat loss with insulation, chutes and vents
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 snow.
If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles, repair’s Start at $500 or a roofer for a larger section. Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.
If your roof is flat and surfaced with asphalt and pebbles, as many are in the Southwest, rake or blow off fall leaves and pine needles, which hold moisture, says Bill Richardson, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, in Albuquerque. (Don’t sweep aside the pebbles; that will expose the asphalt to damaging sunlight.)
Caulk Around Windows and Doors
Richardson says that if 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.
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.
You’ll typically pay $250 to $1500 to clean gutters on a single-story house, depending on its size. Also look for missing or damaged gutters and fascia boards and repair them.
Add extensions to downspouts so that water runs at least 3 to 4 feet away from the foundation, says home-improvement expert David Lupberger.
For example, HomeDepot.com sells Amerimax Flex-a-Spout 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 ten to 15 years old typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.
Drain 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.
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.
Prepare to Stow Your Mower
As the mower sits through the winter, fuel remaining in its engine will decompose, “varnishing” the carburetor and causing difficulty when you try to start the engine in the spring.
John Deere offers these preventive steps: If you’ve added stabilizer to your fuel to keep it fresh longer, then 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 shears 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.
To get advice specific to your plants and region, consult master gardeners at local nurseries or horticulturalists with your state university’s cooperation extension department. One exception: You may need to hire an arborist to remove deadfall or trim limbs close to your home or power lines that could cause problems in a winter storm.
Test Your Sump Pump
Avoid a Flooded Basement
Slowly pour several gallons of water into the sump pit to see whether the pump turns on. You should do this every few months, but especially after a long dry season or before a rainy one.
For more complete instructions for testing and maintenance, check your owner’s manual. Most sump pumps last about ten years,
Sump pump failure. If your basement is equipped with a sump and sump pump(s), it can mean that the foundation drainage system of your home requires some assistance to keep up with the groundwater around it, or it simply cannot drain adequately by gravity to the surrounding ground or storm sewer. New homes are required to have sump pumps in these situations. Sump pumps, when working properly and adequately maintained, can safely pump excess water above the foundation and away from it. Ideally, this water should be routed to the lawn or storm sewer. If the pumps cannot keep up, or fails to operate (perhaps due to a power failure, or malfunction), the groundwater level around the foundation can rise to the point that it flows up and out of the sump onto the basement floor.
Call a Chimney Sweep
Before you burn 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.
You can expect to pay $50 to $90 for an inspection to see if you need a cleaning, and $300 to $1000 for the cleaning.
Restock Winter Essentials
Don’t wait for the first winter storm to restock cold-weather essentials, such as salt or ice melt. If you can’t abide a snowblower’s roar or the back-breaking workout of shoveling, check out the Sno Wovel, a wheeled shovel that does much of the heavy-lifting for you ($140; go to www.wovel.com to locate retailers or www.amazon.com to buy it online).