by Lauren Busser The House Designers’ Contributing Writer
As winter approaches you've gotten your sweaters out of storage and found your mittens and boots, but your house needs its own 'winter coat' as well. How to best get your home prepared for the colder months ahead? Things like leaky windows and a furnace in need of maintenance can cost you money and may be hazardous to your home. Here are some tips to help you keep more money in your pocket and your home cozy and warm.As winter approaches you've gotten your sweaters out of storage and found your mittens and boots, but your house needs its own 'winter coat' as well. How to best get your home prepared for the colder months ahead? Things like leaky windows and a furnace in need of maintenance can cost you money and may be hazardous to your home. Here are some tips to help you keep more money in your pocket and your home cozy and warm.
Clean Your Gutters
After all the leaves have fallen, make sure to clean out the gutters so that rain and melting snow and ice can drain. Clogged gutters can help form ice dams where water backs up, freezes, and causes water to seep into the house. After removing the leaves from the gutters, hose them out and look for leaks and misaligned pipes. While you are doing this check the downspouts to make sure they are carrying water at least 10' away from your home’s foundation.
Repair Air Leaks
The average American home has enough leaks to add up to a nine foot hole in a wall. All of this wasted energy seeping out of those leaks can make up about 10 percent of your heating bill. To find leaks, pick a breezy day and walk around inside your house holding a lit incense stick near the most common drafty areas (windows and doors), being careful around flammable items.
You should caulk leaks where necessary but you can also use door sweeps to plug leaks under the doors. Foam gaskets can easily be installed around electrical outlets that share the home’s outer walls, where cold air can seep through. Outside you should use weather-resistant caulk or masonry sealer, which will stand up to freezing and thawing.
Make Sure You Have Enough Insulation
One way to save money and energy in the winter is to add insulation to your attic. It's not particularly expensive and you'll get your investment back quickly. Regardless of where you live in the United States you should have at least twelve inches of insulation in the attic. A general rule of thumb is that if you can see the ceiling joists you don’t have enough insulation (The average ceiling joist is between 10 and 11 inches).
Give Your Furnace a Check Up
Turn your furnace on to make sure it is working before the coldest weather descends. You might notice a short-lived odor the first time you turn the furnace on, but simply opening a window should dissipate it. However if the smell persists, shut down the furnace and call your technician.
You should have your furnace cleaned and tuned annually and change the furnace air filters regularly throughout the winter. A dirty filter will impede the air flow and efficiency, and in really extreme cases could result in a fire. It is also a good idea to check and vacuum your ductwork every few years.
Install Your Storm Windows
Now is the time to take down the window screens and put up the storm windows. Storm windows provide an extra layer of protection and are particularly helpful if you have older single-pane glass windows. If you don’t have storm windows yet and your windows are leaky or drafty you need to upgrade your windows.
Now, we know that windows are pricey. If you are replacing all the windows in an older house, you can budget to replace them a couple at a time and in the meantime use an insulator kit. Insulator kits are a temporary substitute for storm windows, and while not terribly attractive they will get the job done in a pinch.
Time to Inspect the Chimney
Spring is the ideal time to think about your chimney. Your chimney doesn’t need to be swept every year but it should be inspected. Any sweep will have lots of stories about all the strange things found in chimneys. It's worth having a look now and again.
When you get your chimney inspected, ask for a Level 1 inspection, which examines all readily accessible portions of your chimney. Certified chimney sweeps usually include a Level 1 service with a sweep.
Your woodstove on the other hand should be swept more than once a year. When it comes to woodstoves cleaning should be performed for every quarter inch of creosote buildup max, to avoid fire hazard.
One of the best preventive measures you can take for your chimney is to buy a protective cap. A chimney cap will keep out foreign objects from birds to tennis balls, as well as rain. Try to buy a cap based on durability instead of appearance.
Check Your Alarms
Now is a great time to install fresh batteries in smoke and CO detectors. Test your smoke, carbon monoxide, and security systems to make sure that they are functioning properly. Also make sure that your fire extinguisher is still pressurized and within its inspection date and that your family is familiar with the fire escape plan.
Winter can be a cold and uncomfortable time of year but with these simple steps it doesn’t have to be. Take the time to do these things now and you and your family will stay toasty, warm and safe all season long.