Ideally, home winterization should start in autumn, but if “Old Man Winter” got the jump on you, all is not lost.
Now that winter is in full fury, hopefully, you have already taken extra steps to keep your home warm and toasty this year. Many regions of the country are experiencing an early and exceptionally cold winter. Freezing temperatures, heavy snow accumulations, flood warnings, powerful winds, and ice create conditions that require vigilance.
Winter weather can knock out power, heat and services to your home, sometimes for days at a time with heavy snowfall and extreme cold immobilizing an entire region. The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as “Deceptive Killers” as the majority of the deaths are indirectly related to the storm and may result from hypothermia from long exposure to cold. It’s important to be prepared for winter’s next assault.
As you brace for winter’s next assault, there is a lot to keep in mind when endeavoring to keep families, pets, property and yourself safe from the cold and perils inherent in winter. In spite of winter’s early arrival, there are still several things that that you can do that will help protect your family, your home and even your wallet from the ravages of the season.
Prepare For Power Outages
First and foremost, be prepared for dangerous power outages.
Make sure you have a sufficient supply of extra quilts, blankets, coats, boots, gloves, caps, scarves, and other cold weather gear for the entire family. Ice and snow forms on tree branches and can snap power poles and lines causing lengthy power outages. Disaster preparation experts with The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advise stocking up on extra water and food provisions for at least a week. A family’s emergency supplies should include other essentials such as candles, matches, flashlights, extra batteries, battery operated radio, and necessary medications. A generator can help ward off the discomfort of a power outage.
Whether you are worried about power failures or not, it is just a very good idea to make sure that you have stockpiled needed supplies. Doing so can help you avoid unpleasant trips to the market on dangerous, snow-packed roads.
Keep warm clothing, boots, food, water, tire chains, shovel, and a roadside emergency survival kit in your car at all times. Be sure to maintain a full gas tank to prevent moisture from freezing in gas lines and to be prepared should power outages shut down service stations and gasoline is not available. In the event of an evacuation order due to flooding, you don’t want to be stranded with an empty gas tank.
Snug and Cozy
The International Association of Home Inspectors advises the secret of keeping your home warm and cozy is to keep cold air outside where it belongs. To stop icy drafts, it is important to seal up all the cracks or gaps in the exterior perimeter of your home.
- Available from hardware stores and building supply centers, caulking for use in temperatures below 40 degrees can be applied wherever and wherever you see holes, gaps or cracks. Areas around windows and outdoor faucets are areas that frequently are a source of chilling drafts.
- Check to make sure all exterior doors have fresh weather stripping to keep cold air out and warm air indoors. Neither air nor light should be able to bypass any point around the doors. Remember to install weather stripping around attic trap doors and entryways to the basement as well.
- In older homes with inadequate insulation, gaps and leaks allow heat to escape and cold air to enter the home. To detect leaks, walk around your home near walls, windows and doors with a lighted candle. If the flame flickers, cold air is getting in. Be sure to check around light switches and wall sockets, as they are often the biggest source of leaks. If you find leaks around switches and sockets, remove the decorative faceplate and install a piece of insulation to cut to size or purchase special socket and switch insulation kits at your local hardware.
- Drafty attic doors let cold air into the home. The Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association provides helpful basic home insulation guidelines. Make sure that your attic insulation is up to code for your area. Upgrading your insulation requires a monetary outgo, but you will see a return on your investment in as little as a year. Adequate attic insulation can save you as much as 30 percent off your monthly heating bill.
- A rolled up rug or towel placed across the bottom of an exterior door or window frame is a helpful temporary solution to winter drafts. Closing the drapes and pulling the blinds can also help reduce drafts in older, under-insulated homes.
- If your home has a fireplace that is not in use, check the flux. An open flux can quickly suck the heat out of your living space and run up your utility bills.
- Heat rises, so reversing your ceiling fans in winter will push down warm air and force it to recirculate through the house. During cold weather, the ceiling fan should rotate clockwise when looking up at it.
- A challenging winter can place unusual demands on your heating system, straining parts that were already stressed. If you question if your furnace or heating units are not functioning at full capacity, scheduling a tune-up before the next big storm hits can fix any problems and prevent an expensive call for emergency repairs.
- Lock your windows. Many people do not realize that an unlocked window can leave a tiny gap that allows cold air to enter or warm air to exit the dwelling. Making a habit of locking all windows is not just a good safety precaution; doing so can substantially cut down on heat loss and lower energy consumption.
- Heat escapes through windows, especially in older homes. To keep rooms warm you can tape bubble wrap to your windows to keep out winter winds. Alternately, plastic window film insulation kits are available from hardware stores and building supply centers.
- Close doors and turn down thermostats in any unused rooms to retain heat in the central core of the home.
Prevent Frozen Pipes
- Prevent indoor plumbing problems in pipes on exterior walls that are vulnerable to freezing by opening cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate freely. It’s also a wise idea allow your faucets to drip steadily during a cold snap. The extra water you use will cost just pennies a day compared to the hundred of dollars of you could spend on costly broken pipe repairs.
- Wrapping plumbing pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape and covering with pre-formed sections of foam pipe insulation can prevent problems. If you budget doesn’t allow for this type of permanent fix to an annual problem, wrapping pipes with a ¼ to ½ thick layer of newspaper secured with duct tape is an inexpensive temporary fix to help get you through a cold snap.
- Once again, check that all smoke alarms are in working order. During cold periods, space heaters, stoves and fireplaces can overheat, increasing the danger of a house fire.
- If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector installed, get one. Like a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector can save you or a family member’s life.
Never attempt to heat your home with a gas stove or oven. Doing so will cause the stove to overheat and can release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the home.