There ten things that you should take care of in the waning days of fall to make sure that you spend the winter comfy and warm in your home.
- Have your heating system serviced and change your furnace and/ or heat pump filters.
- Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order and the batteries are good.
- If you have window units, remove air conditioners from windows and store away in the basement.
- Clear out your gutters. Also, Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet
- Cut back tree limbs or branches surrounding your home to at least 3 feet away from the house.
- Clean and cover patio furniture with a tarp. Store cushions inside or in a garden shed or garage. Though I will admit that my polywood furniture has wintered uncovered outside for 13 years and still looks like new.
- Flush the hot water heater. Check that your sump pump(s) is working.
- Unscrew the hoses and turn off the water to your outside hoses
- To prevent frozen pipes have a plan to address the weak points on the coldest nights
- Check the roof for damage and get it repaired before winter.
I failed to complete my spring repair list and now is my chance to make sure the house is buttoned up for winter. All these items have to do with maintaining equipment, preventing water and ice problems and just staying warm and safe in the winter. Your heating and air conditioning equipment should be serviced twice a year to make sure it is functioning properly. If you have a gas furnace, it is especially necessary to make sure that it is working properly. In addition, the system functions better when the air flow is not blocked by a dirty filter. Change them. If you have window air conditioning units now is the time to remove them and store them in the basement. This will eliminate a source of air leak to your home; and extend the life of the air conditioner.
Every home should have smoke alarms, and all homes with oil, natural gas or propane burning appliances such as a furnace, water heater, stove, cooktop or grill should have a carbon monoxide monitor. If you have an all-electric home you do not really need a carbon monoxide alarm unless you operate a generator during power outages. The U.S. Fire Administration for Homeland Security, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Red Cross agree after working for 87,000 hours or 10 years in normal environmental conditions in the home it is time to replace your smoke alarms.
Next, on the list Is to clear out your gutters. Clogged gutters can accumulate water in the gutter and around the house. In my case a roofer’s glove clogged a gutter and water poured down from the overflowing gutter on top of a bay window that sprung a leak before I could clear out the gutter. That is the repair that did not get done over the summer. In addition, a clogged gutter can contribute to creating ice dam. Coming from New England I worry about ice dams that form above the gutters at the edge of the roof. These dams of ice prevent melting snow from draining off the roof and instead may allow the water to back up behind the dam which can both leak into the home and lift the edge of the roof. Fortunately, in Northern Virginia we do not often have to worry about ice dams on the roof, instead it is torrential rain storms and wind that challenge us.
Freezing rain is also a problem. The ice glaze that forms can get quite heavy, and as it builds up on trees or shrubs, branches get weighed down and can snap under the weight. These snapped branches can damage your home. It is best to cut back tress and large shrubs that overhang your home.
Turn off the water to your outside hoses, there should be a valve for each in the basement next to the main water line. In older homes this is not always true. Next, unscrew the hoses. Most modern homes have frost-free sillcocks (hose bibs) installed, and if they are properly installed with a correct angel to drain the water back they should be fine all winter; however, I found out the hard way that sometimes they are simply not installed right or leaving the hose connected that winter may have caused the problem. My frost free sillcock in the back of the house had the pipe in the inside wall split a few years back. I replaced both sillcocks in the spring and now turn off the water in the winter. This should prevent problems in the future.
Also, you need to prevent frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can
happen in your supply line or other parts of the house. If your well supply
line or the water main is not frozen, you may have water in part of the house,
but frozen pipes elsewhere. There are some things you can do to prevent frozen
pipes. A couple of ceramic electric heat cubes, thermocouple, electric blanket
and a little strategy can prevent frozen pipes before they happen, or defrost a frozen pipe. The likely pipes to freeze are against exterior walls of the home, or are
exposed to the cold, like outdoor hose bibs, and water supply pipes in unheated
interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen
cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no
insulation are also subject to freezing.
In sub-zero weather wells with and without separate well houses can freeze. Keeping the temperature in a well house above freezing or your well pipe insulated can prevent this. It used to be that an inefficient 100 watt incandescent bulb gave off enough heat to do the job, but now with more efficient bulbs insulation and other sources of heat have to be used. An electric blanket can do the job. Deep wells are unlikely to freeze, it’s usually a supply line that was not buried deep enough. Abnormally cold snaps can identify many a private well line that was not buried deep enough at its most vulnerable point where it connects to the foundation.
Because of the usually mild winters here in Virginia, bathrooms are often build above garages or have pipes run through a dormer. If you have a bathroom above a garage keep a small ceramic electric heater ($40) connected to a thermocouple that turns it on when the temperature in the garage falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn on the heating cube in the garage and check it functioning when you turn off the hoses in late fall.
When the weather is forecast to fall into the single digits or lower open the cabinet doors below sinks located on outside walls or against attic dormers, and in the most extreme weather run an extra ceramic electric heater overnight keeping that bathroom toasty while the rest of the house is at an energy saving 62-65 degrees.
Letting the water run in very cold weather can work, but can also create other problems. While running water may prevent the water supply pipes from freezing, in the coldest weather the slowly running water might cause the drain pipe to the septic system to freeze and block the flow or even burst, and it can overwhelm a septic system. If you are on city water and sewer letting water trickle can prevent frozen pipes at a price.
Now is a good time to prepare for winter. Also, you might want to change your furnace and or heat pump filters so that the systems will work their best through the cold months ahead. Remember if we have snow to dig out your heat pump and make sure all furnace vents are clear and unblocked.