Looks like winter is coming early this year — some big storms have already hit the Midwest — and both the Farmer’s Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac say it’s going to be an especially cold, snowy season. But even if you live in a mild climate, you’ll still want to get ready for cooler temperatures, longer nights, and wet weather. Here are 6 important reasons to winterize your abode now.
1. Because indoor rivers are not awesome
Have you ever walked in your house and found a waterfall in your kitchen? That’s what happened at my family’s cabin in the mountains one winter. The last people to rent the place forgot to let the faucet drip, so the pipes froze and eventually burst. It wasn’t pretty.
Keeping water moving through the pipes is one way to help avoid this, but there are better (and less wasteful) ways. The first is to insulate the water pipes in unheated areas of your house. You may also want to buy a freeze alarm that automatically checks your home’s temperature and alerts you if it drops too low. Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can be surprisingly cold, especially if they’re along an outside wall, so consider wrapping those pipes as well, or keep the cabinets open so the warm air can circulate around them. And set your thermostat to no lower than 55 degrees.
When it’s time to winterize, be sure to turn off the valve that carries water to your exterior faucets or irrigation systems, and then drain the faucets, sprinkler lines, and hoses. You should also drain any hoses coming from your air conditioner and turn off its water valve if there is one.
2. Because an indoor rainstorm is no fun either
A leaky (or worse, collapsed) roof is another winter surprise you could do without. In the fall, clean leaves and debris out of your rain gutters so water doesn’t back up and damage your roof. While you’re at it, look for gutter leaks or misaligned pipes and make sure your downspouts pour away from the house so the water doesn’t cause flooding or damage your foundation. Ideally, water from your gutters should be deposited at least 10 feet from your house. If your system falls short, consider adding a drainage pipe extension to the end of your downspout.
In colder climates, water can freeze in the rain gutters and create ice dams. To prevent a buildup of snow and ice, remove snow from your roof with a long-poled rake. You should also be sure your attic is well insulated — otherwise, the warmth from your house can cause snow to melt at the center of your roof and then collect at the eaves (which are colder). Along with insulation, consider weather-stripping your attic door or hatch to prevent drafts. Bonus: you’ll save energy too.
3. Because not all fires are cozy
Winter, naturally, is the worst season for house fires, so one of your winterizing steps should be changing the batteries in your smoke alarms. Make sure you also test your smoke alarms and check that they’re up to date — alarms and fire extinguishers should be replaced every 10 years.
If you have a fireplace or wood stove, you should have your chimney inspected once a year, and, if necessary, cleaned to remove soot and creosote (a sticky, combustible residue that’s produced when wood is burned). Creosote buildup can result in a chimney fire. Because poor drafts cause the buildup to happen faster, consider putting a cap on your chimney to keep debris from blocking your flue.
4. Because a carbon monoxide leak is a serious thing
Another hazard associated with winter is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is an odorless gas produced by fuel-burning appliances like gas furnaces. Under normal circumstances, the amount produced isn’t enough to be worrisome and most of it will be vented outside. But a dirty or inefficient furnace can create dangerous levels of CO. Be sure to have your furnace serviced every fall to make sure it’s working properly and safely. It’s also wise to install carbon monoxide detectors near your furnace and water heater. You can change the batteries while you’re changing the ones in your smoke alarms.
5. Because darkness can be dangerous
The nights are getting longer, so now’s a good time to inspect and replace the bulbs in your exterior lighting system. Good outdoor lighting can help prevent people from tripping over obstacles or steps and it also tends to discourage burglars. (So does trimming the shrubbery near your windows and doors, which could provide coverage for thieves.)
6. Because heat isn’t cheap
Safety is important, but so is saving money. To find out where you might be losing heat, wet your hand and run it along the trim on your interior windows and doors. If you feel a breeze, fill the spaces with caulk. Keep your windows tightly locked — this not only helps keep thieves out, but it also prevents you from accidentally leaving the window cracked. Make sure your heating ducts are insulated and properly connected. And keep your fireplace flue closed when not in use.
Once you’ve done your winterizing prep, you can laugh in the face of storms and frost! While you’re at it, make sure you’ve got the right homeowners coverage so you can be prepared no matter how cranky Old Man Winter gets this year.
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