Well, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. That means that cold weather is just around the corner. While there’s still daylight, there are a few things you should do to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months. Snow, ice, and bitter cold weather are on the way and preparing your home will save you money! Air Conditioner
If you have an outdoor condensing unit, now is a good time to rake all the leaves away and put a cover over it. If you don’t have a cover, a good quality tarp and bungee cords will work just fine. This will help keep snow and ice from getting inside the condensing unit. Covering it will also help preserve the finish keeping it looking new.
Bibs — Not the kind your child wears!
If you have outdoor hose bibs, go downstairs and find the shut-off valves for them. They are usually located in the ceiling near the walls where the water line exits the home, but not always. Look for the water line starting at the outside wall and follow it back. You will usually find a valve with a round handle on it. Sometimes, there is even a little cap on the side of the valve. Turn the valve all the way to the right. This will close off the water supply. Go outside and open the valve about 1/4 of the way. Water will drip and then stop. If you have a valve with a cap on it, grab a small bucket and put this under the valve. Take off the cap. Water will drip for a while. By taking off this cap, you’re bleeding the water line that will prevent freezing. Once it stops dripping, put the cap back on.
Inspect your chimney for any blockages like nests, leaves, loose bricks, etc. Â Even though your furnace may not use the chimney anymore, your water heater might. When you close up your home for winter, exhausting those combustion gasses is very important. Carbon Monoxide can build up over time if your chimney is not working properly. If you don’t feel comfortable climbing on your roof, then don’t. There usually, there is a small door in the basement that is the cover for the chimney clean-out. Open it up and expect lots of stuff to fall out. Clean up the mess and then take a small mirror and look up the chimney during the day. You should be able to see daylight at the top. If you don’t, call a qualified chimney sweep to come to your home and do the cleaning for you. They will also inspect the condition of your chimney and let you know if there are problems lurking that you may not be aware of. Check your wood burning fireplace chimney at the same time. Make sure there isn’t any creosote build-up on the inside walls. Have a qualified chimney sweep do a thorough cleaning if you have any build-up. It’s a simple way to prevent chimney fires.
Make sure you have at least one working Carbon Monoxide detector. A preferred detector has Knight Hawk circuitry and a numerical display that communicates how much Carbon Monoxide is in your home in parts per million (ppm). Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are nauseous, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath or headaches. If you feel any of these, get fresh air right away and contact a doctor for proper diagnosis. Also, contact a HVAC technician to determine the source of the problem and have it corrected. Check and install smoke detectors in each bedroom. You should also have at least one smoke detector on each level of your home. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your smoke detectors. If they are too close to the wall or installed in corners, they may not alarm in time. Change the batteries at least twice per year and check the operation monthly.
Having your heating system tuned up before winter is a necessity. Hire a qualified heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician to look over your heating system. The will check the heat exchangers, adjust your burners, and make sure everything is operating efficiently. You and your family depend on your furnace keeping your home warm and cozy. A furnace that is not efficient will waste your heating dollars and can even be dangerous. A by-product of burning any fossil fuels is Carbon Monoxide. This is a deadly, odorless, colorless gas that can kill. Your furnace tune-up will help make sure your heating system is operating efficiently and safely. Make sure the area around the furnace is cleared for good circulation. Make sure that all flammable materials like paint thinners, fuels, solvents, clothing, and cardboard that may have been stored around the furnace during the summer are moved far away from the furnace. During the heating season, it is important to change your furnace filters on a regular basis. If you have disposable filters, they should be changed at the beginning of the heating season and then checked monthly. Each filter has an arrow printed on it that must point in the direction of the air flow. The air flow in most cases points towards the furnace.
After the leaves have fallen, you should clean your gutters. Gutters are very important even during the snowy season! They must be kept clean to allow the water to flow. Yes, water does flow even during the winter. Just much slower! As the sun heats the roof of your home, the snow will melt and find its way into your gutters. Debris in your gutters will block this flow and ice will form. In a short period of time, this ice build-up will start creeping up your roof leading to a serious problem called an ice-dam.
If your furnace is equipped with a built-in humidifier, change the water panel. Also, check for any leaks in your humidifier. Unmaintained humidifiers can cause serious damage to the heating system. Water that leaks inside of the furnace will rust it out from the inside. There also is a controller for your humidifier either next to the thermostat or it may be next to the humidifier by the furnace. This dial controls the amount of moisture (relative humidity) that is added to your home. This needs to be changed based on the outdoor temperature. If you don’t, too much moisture could be added to your home that could condense on your windows leading to additional problems.
Check your attic for proper insulation. Wisconsin recommends a minimum of R-38 for attic spaces. The R-value is a measurement of the resistance of a material to allow heat to pass through it. Fiberglass batts have an R-value of 3.14 per inch. So for an R-38 rating you should have at least 12 inches of fiberglass batts. Blown-in fiberglass requires about 18 inches. Blown-in cellulose requires about 12 inches. It is important to use non-faced (no paper or foil backing) if you are planning on adding fiberglass batts over any existing insulation. Make sure you keep all attic vents open. Attic ventilation is very important and it actually helps keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer!
Turn on all your outside lights and check for burned out bulbs. Since the days are getting shorter, you will be entering and leaving you home more often in the dark. Making sure your outdoor lighting is working will help keep you safe. There are inexpensive fixtures available at all home improvement stores that have motion sensors built in. They are easy to install and can really help by turning on the lights for you before you get to your door. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instruction carefully.
Prune any branches that overhang your home, especially the dead ones. Heavy snow and ice can coupled with winds can cause dead branches to break. Falling branches can damage your home, car, or people passing by your property. Branches that seem out of the way of your home may not be when they become snow laden. Nothing should be allowed to abrade your home, especially your roof. A Premature failure will be the result.
Railings and Stairs
Make sure your stairs have tight, grippable, handrails. You probably will be walking up and down your stairs with snow and ice on them. Handrails can be a lifesaver if you inadvertently slip. If they are in poor condition, they are of no help. Replace any loose or rusted fasteners. Remember, they have to be able to support your entire weight if you do slip and fall.
During the daylight, look at all of your doors. If the door is closed, you should not be able to see any light coming in from the outside around the door. If you do, your weather stripping should be replaced. This will help keep the cold air from coming into your home and reduce the drafts. Poor weather stripping is a big energy waster because your heating system has to heat all that cold air.
I hope these ideas will help you get through winter safely. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on this discussion! Greg Liebig 4-Square Home Inspections, LLC