By Joseph Truini
Winter is here, and with it comes beautiful snow and comforting fireplaces. However, this time of year also brings the very real chance of severe winter storms. Blizzards, ice storms and dangerously low temperatures can pose serious threats to you and your home.
Having your home ready to combat the worst of winter weather is something no homeowner should take lightly. The mercury is dropping – are you prepared?
Inside the home
Make sure these indoor winterizing tasks are squared away before it’s too late.
Add weather stripping to windows and doors. Once the wind starts whipping through the neighborhood, you’ll be able to feel the cold air slipping through cracks and gaps in windows and doors. The first step to sealing out drafts is to measure the gap around the window or door. Then buy weather stripping that’s wider than the widest point of the gap. That way, when you close the window or door, it’ll compress the weather stripping, plug up the gap and seal out any drafts. And don’t forget to block gaps beneath exterior doors. Specially designed door sweeps and tubular rubber weather stripping are highly effective at blocking out wind, rain and snow.
Flush the water heater. Sediment and gunk can accumulate in the bottom of a water heater, causing its efficiency to dip considerably. It’s fairly easy to flush the water heater yourself, but always consult a professional if you have any questions. Water heaters all have a drain valve at the bottom of the unit. If your water heater is electric, make sure you turn off the electricity to the heater before it’s flushed. Hook up a hose to the drain valve, attaching it carefully to prevent flooding, and run it outside to a safe place to drain the water. Then open the valve and let it drain before cleaning out any gunk and rust.
Prepare the fireplace. Whether you have a traditional wood fireplace or a gas fireplace, you’ll need to make sure it’s burning safely and efficiently.
- Clean the chimney. Wood-burning fireplaces can produce a great deal of creosote buildup inside the walls of your chimney from casual use, which could cause problems with smoke and carbon monoxide escaping into the living area. If you use the fireplace frequently – say, three to four days per week all winter long – it’s smart to hire a chimney sweep to clean the flue once a year.
- Prep gas fireplaces. Have the gas burner inspected by a professional to ensure there are no leaks or buildup in the lines.
Find alternative heat sources. When the power goes out during a winter storm, it won’t be long before you start to feel the temperature in your home dropping. That’s why it’s crucial to have alternative sources of power and heat – ones that don’t require the electricity of your home to operate. Consider investing in a temporary wood-burning stove, or a kerosene or gas heater.
Prepare for ice dams. Ice dams are potentially the most damaging of problems that can arise from a severe winter storm, and although they occur on the outside of your home, preventing them actually begins inside. When snow and ice accumulate on your roof, they melt in locations where heat has built up and warmed the underside of the roof. That melted snow and ice will travel down to the cooler edges of the roof and freeze, causing a large buildup, or dam, of ice.
Water traveling from the top of the roof backs up against the newly-formed ice dam. That water then begins penetrating the roof, leaking down into the walls and ceilings, and damaging drywall. On top of that, the water can get inside insulation, creating excess moisture leading to further damage, and even dangerous mold.
To prevent ice dams from occurring, check insulation in your attic and top floor, including around electrical boxes and recessed light fixtures, and make sure the roof is adequately ventilated.
Outside the home
Now that your house is ready for winter weather inside, it’s time to prepare the outside of your home. Snowstorms can bring their own problems, but ice is a bigger winter storm worry, and power outages can cause serious issues if you’re not prepared.
Caulk windows. When you install weather stripping inside, check the exterior of your window for gaps as well. On occasion, the frame can separate from the exterior, allowing cold air to sneak inside. Grab some exterior window/door caulk in a color similar to your window frame, and run a bead around the gap to make sure you have the drafts covered from both sides.
Wrap pipes and faucets. Outside, your home likely has at least one exposed faucet used for watering and outdoor activities. But in the winter, these faucets can pose a hazard, allowing winter air to infiltrate the water running through your underground pipes. When it gets cold enough, the water could freeze and expand in the pipes, causing them to burst. Then you have major problems. Covering the exposed faucet heads with hard foam covers is a must when you get a “hard freeze,” meaning the temperature drops below 28 degrees.
Also, if you have any underground sprinkler systems, they may have an exposed supply line near the home. Wrap and tape these with pipe insulation and duct tape to make sure they don’t freeze as well.
Clean gutters and add gutter guards. Leaves can muck up the gutter works, so it’s important to make sure you get all the blockage out of the way before melting snow and ice backs up on your roof and causes damage.
Trim your trees. Take a minute to identify branches that may cause a problem in the event of heavy ice, and hire a professional to trim them away from your home.
Combat power outages with a generator. Power loss from iced-over power lines is an outdoor problem with big indoor consequences. A generator is the perfect way to avoid the hassle of finding an alternative heat source or overusing your fireplace. But be careful: Every winter brings news reports of deaths due to carbon monoxide from improperly used generators. Consumer protection agencies recommend that you never use portable generators indoors or in garages, basements, or sheds. They should always be used outside, well away from windows, doors, vents, or any other opening. Keeping a working CO alarm in your house is also a good idea.
Don’t let winter take you by surprise! Make sure your home is protected against snow, ice and freezing wind. Install your alternative heat sources and generators before a storm warning even arrives, and keep plenty of water and easy-to-store food on hand. When severe weather hits, you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way.
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Joseph Truini is a home-improvement expert and book author who writes extensively about do-it-yourself home remodeling and repair, woodworking projects, and tools and techniques for The Home Depot.
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