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10 Ways to Winterize Your Home — Now

You’ll get a season’s worth of savings and peace of mind by taking a few steps in the fall to get your home ready for cold weather. So you’ve pulled your sweaters out of mothballs and found your mittens at the bottom of the coat closet. But what about your house — is it prepared for the cold months ahead? You’ll be a lot less comfortable in the coming months if you haven’t girded Home Sweet Home for Old Man Winter. We’ve boiled down your autumn to-do list to 10 easy tips:

1. Clean those gutters  
Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home’s gutters — by hand, by scraper or spatula, and finally by a good hose rinse — so that winter’s rain and melting snow can drain. Clogged drains can form ice dams, in which water backs up, freezes and causes water to seep into the house. As you’re hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.

2. Block those leaks
One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out, experts say. The average American home has leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to studies. First, find the leaks: On a breezy day, walk around inside holding a lit incense stick  to the most common drafty areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames, electrical outlets. Then, buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots. Outlet gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share a home’s outer walls, where cold air often enters. Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. For brick areas, use masonry sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing.

3. Insulate yourself
Another thing that does cost a little money is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic. No matter where you live, you need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic. If you’re layering insulation atop other insulation, don’t use the kind that has “kraft face” finish (i.e., a paper backing), It acts as a vapor barrier and therefore can cause moisture problems in the insulation.

4. Check the furnace
First, turn your furnace on now, to make sure it’s even working, before the coldest weather descends. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. But if the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional. Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (check them monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case.

5. Get your ducts in a row
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That’s a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. Ducts aren’t always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, the basement and crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn’t stand up to the job over time). Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.

6. Face your windows
Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens and put up storm windows, which provide an extra layer of protection and warmth for the home. Storm windows are particularly helpful if you have old, single-pane glass windows. But if you don’t have storm windows, and your windows are leaky or drafty, buy a window insulator kit. Basically, the kit is plastic sheeting that’s affixed to a window’s interior with double-stick tape. A hair dryer is then used to shrink-wrap the sheeting onto the window. (It can be removed in the spring.)

7. Don’t forget the chimney
Don’t put off your chimney needs before using your fireplace. The chimney doesn’t need to be swept every year but a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year. Ask for a Level 1 inspection, in which the professional examines the readily accessible portions of the chimney. Most certified chimney sweeps include a Level 1 service with a sweep.

Woodstoves are a different beast, they should be swept more than once a year. A general rule of thumb is that a cleaning should be performed for every ¼ inch of creosote. If it’s ash, then it’s primarily lye which is the same stuff that was once used to make soap, and it’s very acidic. It can cause mortar and the metal damper to rot.  Check out CSIA’s website for a list of certified chimney sweeps in your area.

Another tip: Buy a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen. It’s probably the easiest protection because it keeps out foreign objects as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace’s walls. One other reminder: To keep out cold air, fireplace owners should keep their chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. And for the same reason, woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn’t in use.

8. Reverse that fan
Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don’t often think of. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable. The blades should be turning clockwise in the winter position.

9. Wrap those pipes
A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before Jack Frost sets his grip: Before freezing nights hit, make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house (via a turnoff valve), and that the lines are drained. Next, go looking for other pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces — pipes that run through crawlspaces, basements or garages. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you’re really worried about a pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.

10. Finally, check those alarms
This is a great time to check the operation — and change the batteries — on your home’s smoke detectors. Detectors should be replaced every 10 years, fire officials say. Test them — older ones in particular — with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the “test” button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works. Also, invest in a carbon-monoxide detector; every home should have at least one.

Stop in to any of our Phillips Hardware stores and we can help you get the supplies you need to make your home ready for winter!