Prepare for Winter

There’s a chill in the air these days. That cool air serves as a reminder that even colder temperatures are just around the corner. If you were freezing last winter – even inside your home – now is the time to spend a few minutes getting ready for what promises to be a bitterly cold few months.

Let’s take a look at your home and develop a checklist to get ready for winter. There are several categories of items to check and/or take care of to make sure your home is ready to keep you warm and cozy through the long, cold months ahead.

First, there are several systems that should be checked or maintained before the temperatures dip below freezing.

The most obvious system is your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC). Whether you have a traditional furnace or a heat pump, it’s a good idea to have a professional perform an annual check-up. The HVAC professional will make sure that your HVAC system is prepared to keep you warm even if the weather outside is frightful. A couple things that even the newest homeowner can do themselves are changing the filter and closing vents on upper floors. A clean filter will ensure an efficiently operating heating system. Closing vents on upper floors will help force heat down to the lower floors. Since heat rises, there’s really no need to force it to your home’s upper floors through ductwork and open vents.

Anyone who owns a home with a lawn sprinkler system knows that it needs to be drained or blown out before the ground freezes. Depending on the type of sprinkler system you have, you can either let it drain on its own or you can hire a professional to blow the residual water out of the system with an air compressor. If you’re not sure which type of system you have, it’s best to call in the pros to make sure your system is drained properly. You may also want to put an insulating blanket over the backflow preventer on the exterior of your home. It’s difficult to get all of the water out of the backflow preventer valve. Often this water freezes and damages parts in side of the valve. Alternatively, you (or your sprinkler professional) can remove the cap and internal parts from the valve and allow the water to evaporate.

While we’re on the subject of water systems, it’s a good idea to winterize your hose bibs at the same time that you winterize your sprinkler system. At a minimum you should disconnect any hoses from the bibs and drain the water out of the hoses. Storing the hoses inside (in the garage is fine if you have an insulated garage) will help them last longer. Some hose bibs have an internal shutoff. If yours are so equipped, turn off the water and open the valve on the exterior spigot.

Another major area for winter home preparation is cold air ingress prevention. Windows, doors, outlets and switches on external walls and a lack of insulation in many Midwestern homes’ attics are some of the biggest problem areas for cold air ingress. The best way to identify your home’s cold spots is an “energy audit”. When Handyman Joes performs an energy audit, we utilize an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature in the areas of your home that typically allow cold air into your home’s interior. As we identify potential issues, we discuss them with you and walk through the options to reduce the amount of cold air entering your home. Solutions run the gambit from simple fixes like weather stripping and caulking to replacing doors and windows. The good news is that these projects will pay for themselves in reduced utility bills – in both winter and summer.

Another idea for winter prep is to place reflective “staffs” at the edges of your driveway and sidewalks. These small diameter poles help guide you while doing snow removal and help guide visitors when they’re entering and exiting your driveway. This reduces damage to your lawn, landscaping and sprinkler heads. Saving one sprinkler head will easily pay for the cost of the markers. Most hardware and home improvement stores carry these markers. They’re easily installed by tapping them into the ground before it freezes. Once the ground has frozen, installation becomes much more difficult.

Finally, it’s important to make many of these improvements while the weather is still nice. Caulking, painting and installing weather stripping with self-stick adhesive strips all need to be done when the temperature is warm enough to allow the paint, caulk or adhesive to bond and for the paint and caulk to cure properly. Don’t put off these projects until after the first snow flies or the ground freezes!

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