As we approach the winter season I thought it appropriate to share my expertise of how to best prepare your home for the winter weather.
Keeping Your Heating Bills at a Minimum
To help lower your heating cost it is necessary to stop or slow down as many air leaks into your home as possible. For a fee you can have your home professionally analyzed with an infrared scanner to see where all the heat loss is taking place. A heat loss analysis will usually pay itself off and is a good investment. The main areas of concern are windows and doors.
Windows types are single, double, or triple pane and may be outfitted with storm windows. Single pane windows provide the least efficient insulation from the cold. To make sure your windows are keeping your home well insulated, repair or replace any broken panes, replace all missing putty around window panes, and then caulk around the windows and siding to give them an air-tight seal. Consider entirely replacing windows which are very old and drafty.
In multiple pane window construction, the window manufacturer puts a gas between the window panes to provide further insulation. Fogging between the panes indicate that you have a broken seal. This should be fixed to ensure the best thermal protection; in which case, a professional window craftsman will be required.
Check the doors of your home by feeling if any air is passing under or around them. Also, you should not see any light passing under a properly sealed door. Various types of thresholds are available to stop air flow from underneath. Weather-stripping, which also comes in many forms and can be installed quickly, should be used for further insulating around your doors.
The ultimate way to insulate your doors is by installing storm doors which provide further protection from the cold by acting as a second insulating barrier.
Maintain Your Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning System
The next thing to check is the furnace. Air filters in HVAC systems should be replaced every month. I recommend a medium priced air filter that won’t restrict airflow as much as the expensive air filters. The less air flow a filter allows, the less efficient your heating system will be at keeping your house warm.
Get the furnace and humidifier checked out to ensure that it’s working well. It is good to get a maintenance contract with an HVAC company to inspect and service your furnace and air conditioner/heat pump each year. This will help preserve your system and greatly extend it’s life.
If you have outside air conditioners you can protect them from the snow by placing a plastic tree leaf bag around them. Be sure, however, that the unit is strictly an air conditioner and not a heat pump since the two look alike. Heat pumps and air conditioner units should not sit directly on the ground, but should be supported to keep them level and allow any surface water to flow under them and away from them. Keep the units clear of shrubbery.
Your heat pump serves as an air conditioner to cool the home in the summer and to provide heat in the winter. I recommend having the unit checked once in the spring prior to summer operation and again in the fall before winter operation. The unit should be pressure tested to determine if there are any leaks in the unit itself or its lines. Also, refrigerant pressure should be checked and more added if necessary. This will insure the optimum operational efficiency of the unit.
Heat pump units should turn on immediately when you switch the thermostat to heat. Be sure that you have the proper thermostat installed which allows for heat from the heat pump, and auxiliary heat from the electric furnace. It should have a setting for heat and auxiliary heat. Use the auxiliary heat in case the heat pump is not enough to adequately heat your home.
Protect Your Water Lines from Freezing
Turn off all water to the outside hose bibs and leave the outside vale open to allow excess water to drain. Your shut off valve may have a bleeder screw on it and you should open this up to drain out excess water at the shut off valve. Tighten this screw after the water has drained. In some cases, a very cold snap may freeze pipes in attic spaces. Inspect your attic to see if there are any exposed pipes needing insulation.
Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
An attic is the most important area of consideration for keeping a well insulated home, even more important than insulation in the walls. Your attic floor should have adequate insulation. Make certain there is sufficient insulation over the attic access area as well. More is always better with attic insulation.
A good home improvement in older homes which were built without exterior wall insulation is to get insulation installed. This is usually done by drilling a series of holes in the siding, blowing the insulation into the walls, and then plugging the holes. New siding with its own insulation backer board can also be installed over the existing siding to cover the holes and provide extra insulation.
Inspect the Roof, Siding and Trim
Your roof should be inspected to see if the flashings around all roof penetrations and at all chimneys are waterproof. Also any missing or worn roofing should be repaired or replaced. Inspect the outside of your home for any bare wood trim or siding that may need priming and painting. The rain and cold can cause your wood trim and siding to crack unless it is properly sealed.
Clear Out All Exterior Drains
Since it is probable that fall leaves clog any exterior drains, inspect the drains and remove all debris around or in them. This will keep water from overflowing and possibly damaging the basement areas which the drains are meant to protect. Clean out gutters and down spouts that may be clogged as well. Much damage can be done by snow and ice if your gutters remain clogged. It’s also ideal to extend gutters with flexible plastic pipe to drain water away from your house’s foundation.
Keep Surface Water Draining Away From the Foundation
You should also inspect the grading around your home to insure that water flows away from and not into your home. The grade should be higher at the foundation wall and slope away.
Repair All Cracks in Your Sidewalk, Patio, or Driveway
Lastly, you should seal any cracks in your sidewalk and driveways with the appropriate sealer. Check with your local home improvement store to see what works best for the type (concrete or asphalt) of driveway you have. By sealing the cracks in your sidewalks and driveways you will protect them from possible damage caused by the freezing and thawing of trapped water.
Winterize all Outdoor Improvements
Follow user manual instructions pertaining to pools, hot tubs, and sprinkler systems, when preparing them for the freeze of winter. The pool and hot tub mechanical filters must be winterized according to manufacturer requirements. It’s best to employ qualified service personnel to winterize these improvements since any water left in the mechanical pumps, piles, and sprinkler systems could damage them causing costly repair expense.
Trim Overhanging Tree Limbs
To prevent damage from falling tree limbs, be aware of overhanging diseased tree limbs that should be removed, especially if these limbs hang over the electric service lines or the home.
An ounce of prevention can prevent a pound of cure. Following these suggested preparations and maintenance guidelines each fall to prepare for the winter months will not only save you money while keeping you warmer, but may also help insure the longevity of your home.
This information was brought to you by Leonard Kantor, a trained architectural engineer and profession Realtor licensed in VA, MD, and DC. Please visit his website at www.KantorResidential.com for many more interesting and informative articles.
** Note: Qualified service professionals should be employed to inspect and repair any of items which you cannot safely and/or adequately service yourself.