Prepare Your Home for Winter - Part 2 Prepare Your Home for Winter - Part 2

While ensuring that your heating system is up and running properly is the most important factor to consider for your winter-ready home, there are still quite a few other tasks you must take into consideration, ranging from the insulation of your home to all the exterior work you will need to accomplish before the first winter storm blows in. (This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. To return to Part 1, click here.)

Insulating and Sealing Up Your Home:

One of the best ways to keep your home warm while keeping your bills down is ensuring that it is insulated and sealed as effectively as possible.

Attic: A well-insulated and ventilated attic will save you both on your heating bill and prevent ice dams. Consider adding a second layer of insulation to your attic. R-30 insulation is considered the minimum a home should have. Newer homes are more likely to conform to this minimum, but if your house is older it is probably time to add insulation.

Major amounts of heat can also be lost through cracks in the walls of your home, reducing the efficiency of your heating system and bumping up bills. Sealing your home up tight on both the interior and exterior is important to reduce the risk of drafts, leaks, dry rot, and mold.

Windows: Now is the time to install your storm windows and doors, replacing any screens in your home. It is especially important to have storm windows if the windows in your home are older and not constructed of modern insulated glass. More on Energy Efficient Windows

Look for cracks in your home around window frames, doors, pipes, and electrical outlets. You should seal up the open drafty cracks where air and wind can seep through as best as you can. On the interior, apply caulk around your window and door glass and trim. Other areas where cracks should be treated are around where the chimney and fireplace penetrate and the gaps around the dryer, bath, and kitchen vents.

Exterior: Check the siding on your house's exterior, looking for cracks and gaps. Caulk and patch the cracks to prevent leaks and the damage that could result from them. Install or replace the weather stripping on all your windows and doors and any other areas where there are gaps. You can prime raw the siding of your house to temporarily waterproof it. You can seal brick exteriors with a high-quality masonry sealer in order to prevent the damage caused by the "freeze-thaw" process.

Fall is an ideal time to paint; however do not paint with latex paint when the temperature drops lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Insulate Pipes to Prevent Freezing:

As the winter approaches, you should make every effort you can to prevent the risk of your pipes freezing, which can cause a blockage of your water supply, and in the worst case, lead to the breaking of your pipes. When pipes freeze the flow of the water is completely blocked. As water expands as it turns into ice, the pipes are very likely to burst. This can be an expensive problem to fix, and a disastrous occurrence in the frigid winter months. Not only outdoor pipes can freeze, pipes that may run along exterior walls or crawl spaces that are exposed to colder temperatures are at risk. Both hot and cold-water pipelines alike can freeze, so be sure to protect both.

Prevention: Begin to insulate your pipes early to prevent freezing, starting before freezing temperatures hit. You can insulate your pipes with foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, wrapping the insulating material around the pipes. For extra protection in the areas of your home that are not heated, pipes may first be wrapped with special heating strips, and then outer insulation wrapped on top of that. More on Insulating Your Pipes for the Winter

If you home has faucets that are attached to the outside of your home, chances are that there is a turnoff valve somewhere on the pipe on the interior of your home. Turn off the water at this valve for the duration of the winter; if you do not have a switch, you should seriously consider installing one to save you trouble. Switch the valve shut, and then open the outside valve to drain out the remaining water. This will protect the pipes that lead to the outdoors from freezing.

Try to spot any trouble with your pipes before it's too late, keeping your eye out for signs that may signify pipes that are beginning to freeze. Is the water pressure becoming reduced? There is a good chance the water in your pipes is starting to freeze and you should take action immediately.

If there is an especially cold spell and you fear your pipes are going to freeze, despite what efforts you have taken, there is still a last-resort trick. Leave one of your faucets, farthest from the supply of your home's water, open and running slightly. If the water is running, it will be less liable to freeze, and the flow of the water should also work to thaw wherever the water already may have frozen in the pipes. It might be a waste of water, but in an extreme case it is a better alternative than a frozen, busted pipe on a freezing winter night.

Thawing Frozen Pipes: In most cases pipes will freeze overnight when it's coldest, unfortunately sneaking up on you despite the precautions you took. Though this is a bad situation, there are some measures you can take yourself to thaw them. First check to see if the pipes are leaking or have burst. If this is the case then you will need to have the pipes repaired before you can attempt to thaw them.

You should first shut off the water supply to the problem pipe. If you do not have a valve for a specific frozen line, then you'll have to shut off the water flow at the main water valve of your house. Open a couple faucets in order to provide a location for the melting ice to flow. There are quite a few methods you can use to thaw the pipes, but you must be careful that they are not heated too quickly and that the water in the pipes does not boil, as the pressure of the resulting steam could cause bursting. Be cautious that the pipes don't become too hot to touch; in addition it is wise to wear protective gloves. If the pipes are plastic then use special caution as they are prone to melting. When you are thawing the pipes, work from the faucet end back toward the frozen area. Here are some do-it-yourself methods:

  • Use a hairdryer, focusing on the frozen area of the pipe. Always remember to work from the faucet (or valve) toward the frozen area.
  • Wrap rags around the pipe where it is frozen, and pour hot water on them. Make sure to keep pouring more hot water on the rags to keep them hot.
  • Wrap a grounded heat-strip around the frozen pipe.
  • Carefully direct a space heater to the frozen area of the pipe in order to thaw it out.

Exterior Work

There are plenty of tasks that need to be done involving the exterior of your home to prepare for the winter, ranging from your rooftop to your lawn.

Gutters: Inspecting and cleaning out your gutters is an important chore, because clogged gutters can result in flooding of the basement and major damage to your roof and walls when the snow begins to melt. Check your gutters for leaks and check the drainage by making sure the downspouts are not discharging water at the base of the foundation. You can unclog downspouts by placing a garden hose in the opening and gently spraying. In addition, check the soil that immediately surrounds the house to make sure it is graded for drainage.

Use safe and thorough methods to clear out the leaves and debris from your gutters. Access your roof with a sturdy ladder, making sure to not lean against a downspout or gutter to avoid causing damage. You can remove the debris by hand, with a spatula, a large spoon, a gutter scoop, or small trowel. Dirt that is caked on can be wet with a hose to make it easier to remove. Also use the hose to flush out the gutters a final time after they have been cleaned, and check for leaks. To cut down on debris, you may want to cover your gutters with wire or plastic mesh.

Inspect your roof for any missing or damaged shingles and have them replaced. You can have a professional come, or you can attempt to inspect your roof yourself, using binoculars to inspect the shingles and flashing on your roof without having to even get up on it.

Plants should be pruned back before the winter in order to encourage healthy growth in the spring. Most of the pruning should be done after the leaves have changed color, as this signifies that the plant is dormant. When you are pruning, make a clear cut about 1/4 inch from the branch at a slight angle. Sensitive shrubs and plants should be wrapped in burlap for protection and you can also spread a layer of mulch around the base of your plants for insulation.

Tree limbs should also be cut back for the winter, especially branches that are potential problems. Trees in your yard should be cut away from power lines, the roof of your house, and your driveway. During the winter, tree limbs can be weighed down by the snow and snap, damaging your property or getting in the way. Dead trees and branches should also be removed. If you know what you are doing you can do this yourself, otherwise you would be better off consulting a professional.

Lawn: There are quite a few steps to take care of your lawn and prepare it to survive the harsh winter. You should keep raking up leaves and clearing your lawn of debris throughout the season. If leaves are left in place they block air from getting into the soil, drying up the grass and making it prone to "snow mold disease." You should also keep mowing your lawn regularly, your last mow taking place before the first frost. If grass is left too long it will be flattened over itself with the pressure of a snow cover, resulting in similar problems as leaf cover.

You should go through the process of winterizing your lawn, which is fertilizing and reseeding it twice before the winter to keep the grass strong and reserving food for over the winter. Purchase a quality winterizer for your lawn and be sure to apply it to your lawn before the frost of the winter to keep it healthy, thriving, and ready to be green in the spring. More on Winterizing Your Lawn

Drain out your outdoors hoses and sprinklers and bring them inside so they cannot freeze or crack. Also drain out the water in birdbaths and cover them. Again, drain and shut off all outdoor water faucets.

Clean and then store your outdoor lawn and patio furniture to protect them from winter damage.

Now's a good time for a major garage clean-out in order to make storage space for equipment coming back inside, as well as for all your winter snow-removal and recreational equipment.

Prepare yourself with quality winter tools. Make sure you have a good snow shovel or two. Stock your home with rock salt and sand for icy surfaces. Get your ice scrapers for windows and cars ready.

If you have a larger yard and driveway, make sure you have an adequate snow blower or snow mobile. Inspect and service your snow blower or snow mobile to ensure they are functioning properly, and stock up on the necessary fuel.

Lay out a mat or rug at the exterior and interior of the entrances to your home to protect the floors of your house from mud, snow, and salt stains. You may also want to place a boot tray by the door for people to place their wet boots and shoes before they enter the home.

Check out the condition of the walkways, steps, and driveway of your home for small holes and cracks. These should be repaired to prevent water from penetrating and freezing, resulting in larger cracks and larger problems in the future. You can repair smaller holes and cracks yourself, but for larger problems consult a professional.

If you have a pool it should thoroughly be prepared for the winter. The water should be drained, and it is essential to have a professional pool cleaner come to clean and winterize your pool. The pool should be covered with a strong cover to keep out leaves, precipitation, and animals during the winter months.


Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!