Prepare Your Home for Winter

As the dog days of summer begin to grow shorter it is a great time to think about winterizing your home to prepare for the colder months ahead.  Snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures can damage a home’s exterior, leading to costly repairs.  Inadequate seals and insulation can force home heating systems to work in overdrive, adding hundreds of dollars to winter utility bills.  Implement the following winter preparation tips to save on energy costs and protect your home from costly damage.

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Indoor Winterizing Tasks

1.  Have chimneys cleaned and inspected.  Blockages and buildup in chimneys can lead to dangerous conditions such as fires and inadequate ventilation.

2.  Consider a thermal insulating blanket for your hot water heater.  Hot water heaters are often the least-efficient appliance in your home.  This is especially true if your tank is store in an outdoor storage room or garage (as ours is).  When temperatures drop the tank has to work extra hard to keep the contents warm.  Consider adding a thermal insulating blanket for your hot water heat to insulate the water from surrounding temperatures.

3.  If your windows are not made of newer insulated glass, consider installing storm windows.  New, energy-efficient windows often two layers of glass with insulating air in between.  Older, single-pane models allow cold air to more easily seep in and make rooms feel cooler.

4. Add insulation to attics and crawlspaces.  Inadequate insulation in attics allows heat to rise up and out of your home, forcing heating systems to work harder to keep your home warm.

5. Install a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats allow you to automatically create a heating/cooling schedule for your home.  At night you can allow inside temperatures to drop down a bit, but warm things up just before the alarm clock goes off. Similarly, you can allow the temperatures to drop inside your hours when it is empty during the day, but warm things up before you arrive home from work. Here are some thoughts on the ideal thermostat setting for winter.

6. Arrange for a professional inspection of your furnace.  Just like automobiles require periodic maintenance, furnaces require servicing by a professional.  It’s worth the cost of a service call.

7.  If you vacation during the winter months, leave your heat on and set it to 55 degrees.  This will help reduce the chance of interior pipes freezing.

8. Install a carbon monoxide detector.  Gas-log fireplaces and furnaces can give off toxic carbon monoxide gases.  Follow manufacturer recommendations on placement of monitoring device.

9. Install fresh batteries in all smoke alarms.  We change the batteries in our smoke alarms twice a year, around daylight savings time changes.  It’s a good idea to periodically test alarms to be sure batteries are still working properly.

10.  Inspect fire extinguishers and recharge if necessary.  Replace any extinguishers older than ten years.

11. Insulate water pipes that may be exposed to freezing temperatures.  If water in pipes freeze, chances are the expansion will cause them to burst and you’ll be stuck with a huge bill from a plumber.

Outdoor Winterizing Tasks

12.  Caulk around windows to prevent cold air from seeping in around cracks.  If you are not sure your windows needed additional caulking, try the candle trick.  On a windy day, light a candle and place it near your window with indoor cooling/heating systems turned off.  If the flame flickers when a gust of wind picks up it is an indication air is seeping around your windows.

13. Clean gutters. A clogged gutter can lead to a flooded basement when snow melts and the water has no where to run off.

14. Drain garden hoses and turn off any outdoor water faucets.  Remove nozzles or sprayers from the end of garden hoses and be sure to drain any water left in the line.

15. Add some antifreeze to the base of portable basketball goals filled with water.  During winter months the water in the goal’s base can freeze and expand, cracking the base.  Purchase a brand of antifreeze that is safe for kids and animals just in case.

16. Inspect driveways and pathways.  Patch cracks with a cement or asphalt kit to prevent water from entering the cracks, freezing, expanding and creating even larger cracks.

17. Make sure you have a snow shovel, rock salt, sand and other tools for dealing with snow and ice on your property.

18. Stock up on firewood.  Store it at least 50 feet away from your home to prevent fire and termites from coming too close to your home.

19. Bleed the valves on any hot-water radiators.  Open slightly until water appears and close again.

20. Be sure there are no flammable materials stored close to your furnace.  This one seems obvious, but many fires are started during the winter months because of flammable items being stored too close to furnaces.

21. Inspect fireplace damper to make sure it is opening and closing properly.  One year, in our old home, the damper wasn’t opening properly, but we did not discover it until we lit a fire and the living room filled with smoke.

22. If you installed summer screens on doors and windows, replace them with the glass equivalents stored during the summer.  Adding the extra pane of glass back to storm doors will ad a layer of insulation against colder temperatures.

23. Drain gas from lawnmower and store for the winter.  It’s also a good idea to store the lawnmower or tractor indoors during extremely cold temperatures.

24. Consider a tune-up on snow blowers and other snow removal equipment.  A little preventive maintenance goes a long way for winter equipment.

25. Apply sealant to decks. Sealant helps prevent wood damage from extreme freezing/thawing cycles.

26.  Move potted plants inside, or closer to the home to prevent damage from freezing temperatures. The temperature near your home’s exterior walls will be a little warmer than out further in your yard.  It also helps to cover outdoor plants with a sheet to insulate them from sub-freezing temperatures.

27. Clean patio furniture and store it away from winter.  In some areas winter storms are often accompanied by high winds.  During these storms, outdoor furniture can be scattered about your yard (and your neighbor’s yard).  Since you won’t likely be using it, look for a place to store it until spring.

28. Check with manufacturer to determine if spare refrigerators or freezers stored in unheated garages are safe to operate at extremely cold temperatures.  Extra refrigerators and freezers are great for stockpiling grocery deals, but if the temperature drops below the inside setting of your refrigerator or freezer it can cause the unit to operate inefficiently.

29. Seal areas around dryer vents, cable outlets and mail chutes with a caulking gun. Look for cracks or holes around outdoor fixtures such as vents and outlets as these spaces allow cold air from outside to enter your wall space and make indoor heating less effective.

For additional tips, check out this post on preparing your house for winter.

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Comments

  1. I didn’t know about bleeding the valves on a hot water heater. I’m glad you shared that because I’ve never done it. I guess I’ll do that tonight before it’s blocked temporarily by construction…

  2. That is a great round-up of tips. I am going to have to try the candle trick- I would not have thought of that!

    We are planning to replace our furnace- it is a beast that came with the house. I know our bills will go down considerably once that happens!

  3. Another nice list FrugalDad. It appears that you may be staying up later and later making these things. Get some sleep!

    A couple of things:

    For modern hot water heaters, a thermal blanket may be overkill. I’ve opened one or two in my time and they typically have about 4 inches of thermal insulation (like wall insulation) inside between the tank and the outer shell. This usually equates to a rating of about 8-12″ of insulation. Wrapping a blanket around it will usually not make much of a difference and can cause problems if done improperly — i.e. covering the blow-off valve (as they are sometimes on the side of the unit).

    The double-pane windows are great! Our newer house (built only 5 years ago) has them and I KNOW they make a difference. Get them ASAP if you don’t have them. It’s costly but worth it not only in monetary terms but comfort as well since the house temperature won’t spike as much.

    Adding insulation is a great thing to do and always helps. It’s almost like lubricant — no such thing as too much! (To a point.) The best way to do it yourself is to get the roll-out kind for easy spaces, but you can also use the blow-in kind and spread it by hand for not so easy spaces. Make sure to use eye/mouth/nose protection when laying out insulation. Though they say it won’t cause problems it is best to safe and make sure you don’t have adverse reactions to it. It can cause a pretty bad itch sometimes.

    If you vacation, you can also turn off the water supply to your home. Make sure to unplug your hot water heater, disconnect the ice-maker and leave the faucets slightly open.

    Some modern fire alarms also double as carbon monoxide detectors. Check your unit’s documentation before spending money on a separate detector.

    As for refrigerators in outdoor areas, it actually won’t cause a problem at all. Though the food inside may be at a higher temperature than the outdoor air, this just means that the motor won’t have to kick on to keep it cool. Fridges have great insulation in them and so shouldn’t be affected greatly unless the outside temperature gets seriously cold. If it does, then you can unplug the unit and the food will remain cold (or frozen) anyway.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Great list!

    One thing I would add for those who live in areas that get snow – invest in a roof rake. This is particularly useful for houses where the roof pitch is not steep enough to prevent the build-up of snow. (For any who do not know, a roof rake looks a bit like a giant squeegee. It has a telescoping handle and you use it to pull snow pack off your roof to prevent leaks and collapse due to snow weight. And it enables you to do this with feet planted safely on the ground.)

    I found out about roof rakes the hard way when I moved into my first house last year. Trust me, they are worth the investment.

  5. We are changing our oil furnace to electric. It’s expensive, but the Canadian Government is giving energy rebates to those who switch to better forms of energy. We live in an older house, so it’s a good idea to update. We also check our attic and insulation for damage. Lastly, we replaced all our windows last year (don’t want the Canadian winter sneaking in…)

  6. @That One Caveman,

    The suggestion is for hot water radiators. These are different from hot water heaters. You don’t need to bleed a hot water heater system as any air in the system will come out through the faucets anyway. In a radiator system, the water system is basically a closed loop between the room radiator units and the heater unit, so any air in the system will affect the heat transfer efficiency. If you don’t know what a water radiator is, then you’re one step ahead already!

  7. Don’t forget to check the weatherstripping or seals under exterior doors (I didn’t see this on your list). Often these are designed to only last a few years and will start to leak over time, as they wear. Pre-formed seals can be purchased for a couple of bucks and are as simple to replace as pull out the old one, and push the new one into the grooves.

    Should also do the candle test around the doors, too.

  8. @Carolyn: Yes, weatherstripping is very important around doors–thanks for mentioning this one. We had to replace the stripping around our backdoor last year because we could see light coming in around the side of the door–a good sign the weatherstripping is worn out.

    • I see this is a late post but I wanted to add an idea about window film. I got some kits a few years ago, at Walmart I think. They have small strips of pliable plastic channels with stick-on mounting . Then there are corresponding strips that pop into the channels with the window film between the two. I installed them on all windows, using clear vinyl plastic as the film. I had tried some inexpensive film, but it was not very clear.

      The channels and film can be mounted on the inside
      The strips come in packages of about 10 36″ strips. The vinyl is also 36″ wide. So for any windows 3 ft wide or less, these work great.

      I see these items with much larger vinyl or at least clear plastic at http://www.improvementscatalog.com. Search on “plastic window insulation”.

      I did not have screens in my older apartment, so in the summer I removed the film (which I saved and reused for 4 winters) and replaced it with screening material. This worked on the outside of casement or sliding windows.

      • The plastic window insulation kits can be mounted inside or outside the windows. The strips stick to the frame. The film is not shrinkable, you just stretch it tight and pushing the rails into the channels tightens it a little more.

  9. I added thermal, blackout heavy drapes to the family room – has single-pane windows. I saw an immediate reduction in AC bills for the summer, and I expect a big reduction in heat loss out them this winter. (About 600 linear inches of draperies – a lot of windows.). As renters, a good way to help winterize.

  10. Nice list. I’ll add two:

    1. If you don’t have/can’t afford dual pane windows yet, put window film on them. Frost King and 3M are two common brands. I stock up in spring for the next winter, which allows me to insulate every window in my house for around $10-$15. It saves me a whole lot more than that and the rooms are noticeably less drafty.

    2. Insulate electrical outlets and light switches on outside-facing walls. Foam inserts for most common outlets are available at any decent hardware store, either in the weatherproofing aisle or in the electrical supply aisle. I also made my own from styrofoam meat trays when I couldn’t find an off-the-shelf match for some of my outlets. The payoff on this isn’t as big, but it’s a cheap project that doesn’t take a lot of time. You just remove the cover plate, drop in the foam insert, then replace the plate.

  11. One thing I forgot for a month last year – close the attic window if there is one. (Not the vent, but any window up there)

    And something I forgot all winter: Close the trap doors in the vents in the foundation that go to the crawl space (If you do not have a basement)

    If it freezes in your area, the outside water faucets should have dolly pardons put on them.

    If your windows are old single panes or non-insulated, an inexpensive weatherproof fix is to put clear builder’s plastic up with lathes on the windows, or plastic shrink wrap. Don’t block your egress windows tho. In my old 1908 farm house, this was the only way to keep the wind from blowing thru the house all winter.

    And in our stormy area, check out your generator and make sure you have fresh fuel for it and that it runs ok. Freshen up the emergency supply kits, store fresh drinking water, check batteries and flashlights, and make sure your battery operated radio is working.

  12. Another idea that I did not see listed is to invest in a heated mattress pad. We got ours for around $70 last fall and have been able to keep the heat even lower at night when we use the heated pad. They are very energy efficient make the bed nice and cozy on the coldest winter nights.

  13. If you’re serious about saving on heating/cooling expense…send me an email and I share my newest product with you…paint on savings…inside…and now! easy…non toxic…safe for the environment and great for your budget! Save 5 to 7 degrees on heat and cooling.

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