Planning ahead for a weather-wise and season-savvy home

Published on Thu, Oct 25, 2012
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Winter is closing in, and as days grow shorter and temperatures drop it’s time once again to prepare your home for the long winter months ahead.

Taking a few minutes now to walk around your home – visually inspecting important systems from a safety perspective and making note of routine maintenance chores that need attention – is a great way to get started, and having a good winter maintenance checklist on hand can help you make sure you’re not missing anything.

1) Clean gutters and downspouts. A clogged gutter or downspout can freeze and wreak havoc on your home. Make a point of checking your gutters and downspouts well before daytime temperatures dip below 32°F. WFC Ace manager Ken Rose points out that often downspouts are the biggest clog culprits.
“People should check right where the downspout drops off the gutter,” he says, noting that the curve in the downspout at that location is a common spot for blockages. And if you have a gutter screen system in place, make sure it’s installed exactly per the manufacturer’s instructions. An improperly installed screen will clog up just as bad as a completely unscreened gutter, Rose says.

2) Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors using the testing feature on each device. Replace batteries and inoperable units as needed. Rose suggests people pick a memorable anniversary and change all the batteries throughout the house at that time – for him, it’s Thanksgiving.

3) Recharge or replace fire extinguishers. Check the gauge on every fire extinguisher to make sure it’s fully charged (arrow pointing to the green area of the gauge). Remove each extinguisher from its mounting bracket and turn upside down to help prevent the dry chemicals inside from caking on the bottom over time. If your fire extinguishers are more than one year old, consider having them inspected by a professional.

3) Check furnace vents. If your home has a forced air furnace, check to make sure that vents in primary living areas are open and unobstructed. You can partially close vents located in less frequently used rooms, but don’t close them all the way unless you’re sure there is no chance of water pipes freezing as a result. Keep in mind that temperatures inside the walls of your home will be lower than adjacent living areas.

4) Stock up on furnace filters. Dirty furnace filters waste energy. They also force your furnace to work harder to heat your home. Your owner’s manual should explain what types of filters are best for your furnace and how often they need to be changed. Keep in mind that a high-efficiency air filter will trap more dirt than a conventional filter and may need to be replaced more frequently to keep your furnace from overheating.

5) Schedule checkups for all home heating systems. Regular maintenance can help keep furnaces, wood stoves, chimneys and other home heating components in top working order. Experts recommend that you schedule an annual inspection by a qualified professional for each system, but service intervals may vary from one system or manufacturer to another, so play it safe and check your owner’s manual or contact heating system manufacturer for guidance.

6) Replace worn out weather stripping around windows and doors. You can dramatically decrease your heating costs. Weather strips are easy to replace and should pay for themselves in a very short time. Look for drafts around outlets, switches and furnace ducts and seal them now.
“It’s a lot easier to do before the cold weather blows,” Rose says.

7) Inspect the insulation in attics and crawl spaces. Over time, fiberglass insulation panels sagging away from rafters, joists and wall cavities allow cold air to penetrate your home. Duct tape can be used to reseat a small problem area, but extensive sagging may indicate a moisture problem.
Try to determine the source of this problem before you replace large areas of insulation. And if you decide to replace the insulation yourself, make sure you follow manufacturer guidelines for personal protective equipment.

8) Protect exterior water valves. Hose bibs located in an unheated garage or on the outside of your home may need to be covered to prevent freezing damage. It’s also good to shut off and drain the water supply.