Smart thermostats show that temperatures are already starting to drop across the U.S. and predictions say we may have an early winter this year. So while there is still mild weather available it is probably a good idea to get your home ready now for the winter season that is coming quickly.
Winterizing your home now will start to bring you savings on your utilities and give you peace of mind knowing you are ready for whatever mother nature throws at us this year.
Here are some great tips to get you ready for the 2014 – 2015 winter season.
1. Fire Up the Furnace – It is a good idea to turn on your furnace and ensure that it is working properly before the cold weather hits. It is common for a strange odor to emit from the furnace when you first fire it up from its summer rest. If the odor persists you may need to call a professional to have it cleaned and tuned. You should also change the furnace filter. Fiberglass filters need to be thrown out and completely replaced once they are dirty. Electronic or electrostatic filters can be washed and reused. It is a good idea to check these filters monthly during the winter months. Regular inspections will keep your furnace running clean and efficiently. Furnace tune-ups from a professional can also help to keep your equipment in tip-top shape. It usually costs around $125, but can really extend the life of your furnace and keep your utility costs at a minimum. Remember to have a fire alarm or smoke detector near your furnace as well.
2. Make Sure Your Ducts Are in Order – Ductwork in a home with central heating that is not connected properly or is poorly insulated can lose up to 60% of its hot air before reaching the vents. Not only will it not properly warm your house, but it will drain you of your cold hard cash. Ducts aren’t always easy to access, but check the best you can and fix any gaps or leaks with a metal backed tape to ensure it does the job. It’s also a good idea to clean out any dust or debris every year to help avoid any breathing problems over the winter when you cannot open the windows to enjoy the fresh outside air.
3. Work With Your Windows – Early October is the perfect time to remove your screens and put up the storm windows. If you have single pane windows, storm windows add an excellent second level of protection against the winter elements. If you do not have storm windows and are going to brave the winter with single pane glass you may want to consider getting a window insulator kit. For around $4 a window you can get this plastic sheeting that can be shrink-wrapped to your existing windows with a hair dryer. It might be a little unsightly, but it is extremely inexpensive and effective. Consider saving up for dual pane windows to be installed. They do require a big budget, but are worth it in the end. Maybe only swap out one or two at a time to spread out the expense.
4. Prep Your Pipes – Any pipe that is exposed to the elements is vulnerable to bursting when the temperature drops below freezing. Save yourself the mess and expense of a burst pipe by checking all of them in the basement, garage or crawl spaces to make sure they are properly insulated. Pre-molded rubberized sleeves and fiberglass insulation is relatively inexpensive and available at any hardware store. It is easy to install. Don’t forget to remove the hose from the hose bib, turn off the water supply to the hose from inside the house and completely drain any water left in the outside pipes. One last water source to check might be a window mounted A/C unit. Be sure to drain any hoses, remove any excess water and turn off the water valve if your unit has one.
5. Double Up the Insulation – This tip might initially cost some money, but you are sure to get it back year after year with on your heating bill. No matter what part of the country you live in, American homes require at least one foot of insulation in the attic. An easy way to tell is to peek in your attic and look for the ceiling joists. A ceiling joist is at most ten or eleven inches so if you can see it, you need more insulation.
6. Turn Down Your Water Heater – This tip is not just for winter, it can save you money all year long. When water heaters are installed a common temperature setting is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For most American homes this is simply too high. Reduce your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and watch your water heating costs drop by at least 6% to 10%. It is a small adjustment that will hardly go noticed unless you miss scalding water. For even better performance through the winter months invest in an insulating blanket for your water heater.
7. Fill in the Cracks and Don’t Dodge the Drafts – This is probably more important than most people realize. Even the small cracks count towards energy loss. According to a study done by Earthworks Group, the average American home has enough leaks to equal a nine square foot hole in a wall! One easy way to find them is to use an incense stick on a windy day and walk around your home looking for drafts around windows, doors and electrical outlets. Caulking, weather-stripping, door sweeps and electrical outlet gaskets can usually be enough to conquer any indoor drafts. For leaks originating from the outside of your home you will most likely need a caulk that is manufactured for use outdoors. Masonry sealer is what you will need for cracks in a brick exterior so that it can stand up to the freeze and the thaw each year.
8. Clean out the gutters – After all the leaves have fallen be sure that you remove all of them from your gutters along with any other debris. Anything left behind has a good chance of freezing over and creating an ice dam in your gutter. Water then has the opportunity to back up and soak into your house causing bigger leaks and damage. Be sure the water can easily flow and try to get the downspout to carry the water at least 10 feet from your house. While you are outside you may also want to inspect any other areas of your home’s foundation to see if there are any vulnerable places that ice, snow and water can collect.
9. Inspect Your Fireplace – You may want to call in the help of a professional chimney sweep if your fireplace needs a good cleaning. It may not need a cleaning, but at a minimum you want to make sure that nothing is caught inside like a lost toy or any animals before lighting the first fire of the season. Another crucial step in winterizing your fireplace is to ensure that the damper fully closes to keep out the cold air and that it fully opens to let out the smoke should you build a fire. We also have a great article on maintaining wood stoves should your home have one. You should have a smoke detector or fire alarm near your fireplace as well.
10 Reverse Your Ceiling Fans – Our last tip is usually the one that is most overlooked. Most homeowners only consider their ceiling fans when they want to cool down, but with one flip of a switch you can reverse the motion of the blades. When the fan blades are spinning clockwise the fan blades are now pushing the warm air that pools up at the ceiling back down into the room. Recirculating the warm air trapped up by the ceiling can make your room feel much more comfortable and can actually help to reduce your heating bill by up to 10%!
There are other things you can do to keep your energy costs to a minimum and keep your home ready for whatever winter weather passes through. Remember to set your smart thermostat to a lower temperature when leaving the house or invest in a programmable one. Also simply wearing an extra layer of clothes can really make a difference as well. One last piece of advice is to keep plenty of rock salt handy to keep your sidewalks and driveways free of ice. It isn’t exactly going to help winterize your home, but it will certainly protect your family, friends and neighbors from taking any unnecessary spills.