Get Ready! 10 Winter Home Maintenance Steps
To weather the winter:
- Get Your Heating System Cleaned/Serviced
The worst time to have a problem with your heating system is on the coldest night of the year - and doesn’t your furnace or boiler always seem to act up just then? Get a cleaning each year. If you have gas, you can probably do it every three years, but ask your HVAC company to be sure.
If you heat with wood, have your chimney cleaned and checked for cracks, debris, or even bird nests. A build-up of tar-like creosote (a byproduct of burning wood) can ignite and cause a fire. Chimney fires tend to be slow-burning and quiet, so if they occur at night, this can put your family at great risk. Have a chimney sweep come by.
While you’re thinking about heat, look up. If you have ceiling fans, find the switch that allows the blades to run clockwise (which is the reverse of what you do to cool your home in the summer). This pushes heated air down, making your rooms more comfortable without having to crank the thermostat up.
- Test Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Unfortunately, winter is also known as house fire season. There is a spike this time of year; not surprisingly heating is a major cause, as is trying to thaw frozen pipes with propane torches and other implements. (Don’t do that, by the way!) Check all of your smoke and CO detectors. If you don’t have a smoke/CO alarm on every level, in every bedroom, and outside of sleeping areas (e.g. the hallway), make a small investment. It more than pays you back in terms of peace of mind - and, if the worst happens, in keeping you and your family safe.
Test the alarms once a month and replace the batteries once or twice a year (doing it at the beginning and end of daylight savings is a good way to remember). If you haven’t checked them, do it now.
- Keep Your Pipes from Freezing
Frozen pipes are not only an inconvenience, they can be a major expense - and as mentioned, a fire hazard. As water freezes, pressure builds up. Without a safe place to go, it finds the weakest points in your pipes (e.g. a hairline crack, a weak joint, etc.) and bursts through. The frozen water itself can expand and causes bursts as well. To prevent this:
- Buy some pipe insulation and install it around the pipes near windows, doors, and unheated areas of your home (e.g. garage). It’s quick, easy, and cheap.
- During cold snaps or sudden thaws, leave your faucets and showers running at a trickle. This gives that pressure we mentioned somewhere safe to go and water continues to flow.
- Do not turn your heat down lower than 55 °F, even if you are away.
- Check for Gaps and Cracks That Cause Air Leaks
No sense heating the outdoors, right? Check around windows and doors for seepage, and be on the lookout for cracks in weatherstripping or caulking. If you find leaks, seal them up with new caulk and weatherstripping. Again, it’s an inexpensive and easy fix that will save you money on heating costs and keep you more comfortable.
- Keep Your Roof In Good Shape
Winter weather and storms can wreak havoc on your roof. Check to see if there are any missing or loose shingles. These can allow snow to melt in and damage the interior of your home.
Ice dams are ridges of ice that form along the edge of your roof. They prevent snow from melting and draining off the roof. When it’s backed up like this, the moisture can leak into your home, damaging walls, ceilings, insulation, etc. To prevent this, make sure you have proper insulation in your attic and rake the snow off your roof.
Other roof maintenance steps:
- Trim nearby tree branches. If there’s a storm, you want to minimize the chance falling limbs will damage your roof.
- Clean your gutters of debris so snow melts and drains properly.
- Consider installing heat cables to prevent ice dams and help snowmelt and drain.
- Check to See If You Need More Insulation
We mentioned that more insulation in your attic can help prevent ice dams. Is it sufficient? Do you have the right R-value? For attics, it should be R-38. According to NC building codes, you also want R-15 on exterior walls and R-19 on floor systems and garage ceilings. Hit your crawl spaces too. If you’re not sure what you’re running, ask a professional to do an evaluation. You may also want to consider spray foam insulation, which outperforms traditional insulation.
Sufficient insulation keeps your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Don’t make your poor heating/cooling system work harder than it has to this year!
- Give Your Water Heater Some Love
You don’t want your water heater kicking out in the winter. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to have an annual servicing. Also:
- Flush your tank to remove sediment. Sediment collects at the bottom of your tank, and this can damage the tank and significantly shorten its life. Drain it at least once a year to lower your energy bills and help keep it around longer.
- If you have an older model, wrap it with an insulating blanket to conserve energy and cut down on your utility bill.
- Check Your Sump Pump
Homes that are more prone to flooding during wet seasons and storms typically have a sump pump. The pump helps keep your basement dry. To test it, slowly pour a few gallons of water into the pit. The pump should turn on. That’s it!
If your sump pump is 10 years or older, consider replacing it.
- Get Your Snow Shovels Ready!
After you put away or protect the patio furniture and summer gear, it’s time to make room for the winter equipment. If you have a snow blower, make sure it’s tuned up, fueled up, and ready to go. Keep it in a garage or storage shed; if this is not possible, just buy a snowblower cover.
- Make sure you have a few snow shovels handy.
- Stock up on salt or sand for your driveway and/or walkways.
- Put extra gloves, hats, and cold weather gear in your entryway or mudroom.
- Assemble an Emergency Kit for Your Home and Vehicle
Whether the power is out or the roads are unsafe, it is sensible to have an emergency kit in your home. Be sure to include:
- Bottled water
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- First-aid supplies
- Mini emergency radio. Find a model that is crank operated. It doesn’t need batteries: you just crank it up to find the latest weather reports and alerts.
- Smartphone charger
- Power bank. When this is charged, it acts like a “battery” for your other devices. You can plug your phone in, for example, and get it charged. Make sure the power bank is fully charged, especially if there is nasty weather approaching.
- Nonperishable foods that do not require cooking. If your power is out, you can eat canned foods, jerky, dried fruits, nuts, graham crackers/crackers and peanut butter, applesauce, fruit cups, pudding cups, granola bars, etc. These are shelf-stable, so you can stock up and just leave them in your pantry or a closet.
It is also important to put together an emergency kit for your car. Include:
- Extra hats, gloves, and socks.
- Shelf-stable snacks.
- Booster cables.
- Blankets and/or emergency space thermal blanket
- Ice scraper
- Compact snow shovel
- Road flares
- Traction mats. These little beauties are inexpensive, but if you’re stuck in a snowbank, they’re also invaluable. Place them behind or in the back of the tire to get the traction you need.
- Sand or kitty litter. If you don’t have traction mats, carry either sand or kitty litter for traction. The benefit of traction mats is that you can reuse them again and again - but try not to get stuck in snowbanks too often!
Are you ready for winter? Make a prep list: as you can see most of these items do not take much time or money to complete - and they can save you a whole lot of hassle down the road! If you want to know more about how you can affordably own your own home in the Asheville area, contact us.