Autumn is in full bloom and before you know it winter will be knocking at the door. In winter we bundle up against the cold, and it only makes sense to bundle up our homes against the ravages of the cold winter weather. That means it’s time to start thinking about your annual winterization checklist.
I’m big on making lists, and while some lists never see the light of day – from the grocery list I forget at home on the table, to the Christmas gift list I lose and don’t find until after the holidays are past – my winterization checklist is a different story. I keep it posted on the inside of my hall closet, so I have it every year, and it acts as a reminder every time I open the door to put on my coat.
Here’s my list, maybe you should see how it compares to yours or you can feel free to print this out to use for your winter yearly maintenance. I’ve included some explanations so it would fit for others’ heating systems and the needs of different homes.
1) Replace your furnace filter – this should be done about every 3 months. Make sure that your duct system is working properly – keep your vents & cold air returns unblocked (Your furnace needs these clear to operate efficiently). (*Eureka Hardware 406-297-2942).
2) Seal off drafty windows and doors (especially sliding doors) with clear plastic. Windows with wooden frames sometimes warp and leak cold air. Caulk both sides of the trim around your windows.
Make sure that there aren’t any drafts coming in under your doors. If so, consider using a rubber strip to seal them off (*Western Building Center 406-297-2253 may have what you need). Also replace the weather stripping around the doors annually, if needed.
3) Installing storm doors and windows can increase energy efficiency in your home by 45%. Install these on the outside of your regular doors and windows. (Federal tax credits may be available to help offset the cost of purchasing them if you don’t have any.)
4) Wrap all water pipes that run through unheated areas of the house to help prevent them from freezing during the winter. Insulating your pipes reduces heat loss and can raise hot water temperatures delivered through your pipes, which allows you to reduce the heat on your water heater. By making your pipes energy efficient, you also don’t have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on the shower (which helps conserve water and time). You can get pre-slit pipe foam at the hardware store. Simply cut the foam to the length you need, wrap it around the pipe, and fasten it in place with duct tape. (*Koocanusa Plumbing 406-297-2791 might have what you need)
5) Consider “blanketing” your electric water heater with faced fiberglass insulation (Do not do this if you have a gas-powered water heater). Contact your electric company (*Lincoln Electric 406-889-3301) – sometimes they have programs where they will come in and blanket your heater for you.
6) A really easy change to make is to reverse the direction of ceiling fans to push hot air downward and delay it from escaping the house. Most people don’t know that you can use your fans during the winter to keep your house warm. On every ceiling fan there’s a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of the blades. Switch it so your ceiling fan rotates clockwise. That will push warm air down and force it to recirculate throughout the room. Don’t forget to change it back again when it starts to warm up outside!
7) Close off rooms that aren’t used and shut the vents.
8) Check your insulation in the attic. Simply adding more fiberglass insulation in your attic can boost the energy efficiency in your home. You need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic. If your insulation falls short, just add another layer of the pink or yellow itchy stuff. If you’re adding new insulation to your current insulation, make sure the new insulation doesn’t have a paper-backing. The paper acts as a vapor barrier and can cause problems for you down the road. (*Danny Espinoza is one of our local handy-men 406-297-7196.)
How do you know if you have enough insulation, or if you need more? Most homes require 12 to 15 inches of insulation in their attic – Contact your local DEQ/DOE office to determine the R-Value needed in your area.
9) Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Winter sees an uptick in the number of home fires and cases of carbon monoxide poisoning because people are running their furnaces and boilers overtime in order to keep warm. To keep your family safe, check the batteries on your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and change them if needed.
10) Before you start roasting chestnuts on an open fire, have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean your chimney. In addition to increasing the heating efficiency of your fireplace, an annual cleaning also helps to ensure your family’s’ safety during the winter months. And be sure to gather your firewood (or purchase) before it starts snowing. It always seems that there is a rush to buy/find firewood after it snows, when people panic – realizing they didn’t prepare for the winter weather fully (is anyone besides me thinking of the grasshopper & the ant?).
11) If you have rain gutters, clean out the debris that has accumulated. Ice dams build up when water backs up and freezes near the edge of the roof. This ice continues to build up and eventually forms “dams” that block the path of melted snow from your roof. Water starts pooling in mini reservoirs and begins to seep into your house, causing water damage.
12) If you have any tree branches hanging near your roof, windows, or driveways, trim them back. Snow and ice will weigh them down and possibly cause them to break. Take time now to trim any weak branches that look as if they could cause problems during winter storms. Trimming the trees during mild weather is much easier than trying to do it when it’s frigid outside.
And if you have an in-ground sprinkler system, remember to purge the lines before the first frost hits. Replacing lines can be a costly undertaking – and a needless expense!
13) Living here in Montana, the odds are good that you have a snow blower. Make sure any yearly maintenance is done on it prior to the first snowfall. Fill it up with gas, and start it up to make sure it works. Also make sure that your shovel is still in good condition; if not, pick up a new one, along with salt or sand for your driveway. People often wait until the first big snowfall to buy these crucial supplies, and stores often run out, especially if a big storm is on the way.
14) Contact your local snowplowing service and make arrangements for having your roads & driveway cleared after each snowfall (or however often you need it). Sometimes they’ll give you a discount for signing up early, and letting them put you on a schedule. That’s definitely better than having to pay extra for those emergency calls!
If you plan to plow your own roads, make sure the plow is ready to hook up to your vehicle of choice.
15) Prepare an Emergency Outage Kit. During big storms, it is possible the power may go out for an extended period of time, and the roads could be treacherous to drive on. Make up an emergency (72-hour) kit and stock it with non-perishable food, water, and other supplies (matches, candles, etc). You can buy pre-made 72-hour kits online or at most camping and outdoor stores.
In the fall before the really cold weather hits is when you want to get ready for the coming winter cold. The worst thing in the world is trying to put your storm windows in when it’s 20 degrees outside.
As the leaves begin falling, so does the temperature outside, reminding us we’re only a few shorts weeks away from winter and increased heating costs. Before you get hit with a higher than normal energy bill, take a few minutes to prepare your home for the cold weather. You could end up saving yourself a significant amount in the long run.
Hopefully this helpful list can assist you in your yearly winterization jobs before snow flies, so you can enjoy the snow and not worry about your home.
*These retail/service providers are suggestions only for the North Lincoln County area. Check your local yellow pages for help in your area.