Freezing temperatures are setting in around much of the country, so now what do you do? While each house is unique, there are some things to remember to avoid unpleasant surprises and expensive repairs later one.
#1: Winterize your outdoor water pipes
We all know, when pipes freeze, they often burst due to the extreme pressures exerted by the ice as it forms. If you have hoses outside, disconnect them from the faucet, drain the water that might be trapped in them, and store them for the winter.
If you have a pool or pond that needs winterization, make sure all exposed plumbing is drained. Some systems need to be filled with anti-freeze. Remember, any exposed pipes and even buried pipes, are likely to burst if there’s water in them over the winter.
Most homes have outdoor faucets for hoses. Modern faucets are “no-freeze” design, because they put the valve inside the house where the freeze hazard is lower. However, there are still millions of homes with older fixtures that get destroyed if not drained during the winter. Check your faucets for a shut-off valve inside the house and ensure that they’re drained properly.
#2: Service your furnace or boiler
Many homes are heated with furnaces (hot air) or a boiler (hot water) that are fired using gas, propane or oil. All of these should be checked at least yearly to ensure safe operation. Oil burning systems are particularly prone to getting dirty, clogging, and running inefficiently or even dangerously. If you have oil system, it’s particularly important that you have it checked before every heating season.
#3: Change your air filter if you have a forced air heating system
If your home is heated with hot air, make sure you start the season with a clean filter. Some of the problems you can have with a dirty filter include:
- Reduced air flow – the dirty filter blocks the air flow, this has many effects
- Overheating – low air flow can cause a furnace to overheat. This can be a fire hazard.
- Poor heat distribution – without enough air flow, hot air won’t get to all the rooms of the house properly, leading to cold spots.
- Inefficient operation – furnaces are designed to operate with enough air flowing. With a clogged filter, you lose system efficiency.
#4: Winterize your windows and doors
Windows and doors are among the least energy efficient parts of your home. If you have storm windows, make sure that they’re all closed tightly. This alone can reduce your energy bills and increase your comfort.
If you have drafty windows, you should consider installing shrink-wrap plastic over them. You’ve seen this stuff – you tape it to the inside window frame and use a hair dryer to get rid of the wrinkles. This single layer of plastic, if installed air-tight, can be among the most effective things you can do to improve your energy efficiency.
Another item that really helps with windows are “window quilts.” They aren’t for everyone due to aesthetics, but a window quilt can quadruple the R-value of your windows and make your home much more comfortable.
Doors are harder to fix. But worth it. Old weatherstrip can be worse than useless, as it can cause bigger gaps to let cold air in. And almost every door I see has a bad threshold where you can see daylight. If your doors are leaky and cold, consider installing a high quality exterior storm door. Otherwise, hire a restoration expert to redo the weatherstrips and other door components so that you’ll have a air-tight doors.
#5: Get an energy audit
I admit, I’m biased because I used to do these every day. But there are few investments you can make that can pay back better than an energy audit done by a qualified professional with an infrared camera and blower door. They’ll check your home from basement to attic and give you a comprehensive report, detailing how to make you home comfortable, efficient and safe.
A word of warning – the last few years has brought out a lot of unqualified contractors calling themselves energy auditors. Here are a few things to check:
- History – how long have they been doing audits? How many have they done? Who trained them?
- References – get references and copies of reports they’ve done for others. Check their references.
- Equipment – Blower door and infrared camera are a minimum. Most qualified auditors will have moisture meters, combustion testers and many other pieces of equipment.