Winter Preparations for Your Home

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As millions of Americans plan to weather the holidays and winter months at home due to COVID-19, it’s important to ensure those homes are ready to withstand the elements. With more time spent indoors this winter, you’ll need the house to stay warm, insulated and comfortable without utility costs driven through the roof.

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According to an estimate from Energy Star, 29 percent of the average homeowner’s utility bill each year is for heating. However, there are simple, energy-efficient actions you can take right now to reduce those costs and protect your home from weather-related damage. Cold temperatures, snow and ice storms, or windy blasts can wreak havoc on the structure of your home and cause you to crank the thermostat—but these winter preparations can save you hassle, discomfort and money in the months ahead.

Test the HVAC System.

Central heating is essential to the warmth of your home, but it can also be a main culprit of high costs and wasted energy. Before the cold weather arrives, perform a maintenance check on your HVAC unit to ensure it’s both operational and unobstructed. When running this system test, focus particular attention on the areas below:

  • Make sure the heat mode on your thermostat is functional. The temperature should ideally be set to 68 degrees while you are awake and at home, notes Energy Star, which can save 10 percent in annual heating costs.
  • Inspect the furnace to determine if it needs to be serviced by a professional. Replace the filters on a monthly basis, seal the ducts to prevent leakage, and if the furnace runs on either propane or oil, check its fuel supply.
  • Clear any debris or obstructions in the heating vents. This ensures that ventilation can circulate freely through the house to maximize comfortable airflow. You might also consider having them professionally cleaned.
  • Test for potential carbon monoxide leaks. This chemical is odorless and colorless, but also highly toxic. Carbon monoxide is detectable with a battery-operated alarm which you can find at any home improvement store.

Insulate the Windows.

Cold weather drafts can enter your home through any cracks, leaks and openings, but one efficient way to keep drafts out is by insulating the windows. This basic upgrade can lower utility expenses as much as 20 percent, according to U.S. Department of Energy. Here are some of the most effective and affordable insulation methods:

  • Adhere plastic weather stripping to the sides of each window and then apply caulk to fill in any holes or air gaps.
  • Cover the windowpanes with shrink film and secure with heat from a hair dryer.
  • Use clear nail polish to eliminate cracks in the glass which, once it hardens, will stabilize the windowpane.
  • Place foam insulation material on the windowsill and shut the window over it to block air from seeping in.

Check for Roof Damage.

In the winter, roofs are susceptible to leakage and even collapse from the extra weight of snow and ice dams. When this precipitation accumulates on the roof, it can form cracks through a repetitive cycle of freezing and thawing. These cracks will cause water damage to the roof, walls and ceiling, so you will need to inspect for signs of potential cracks and other issues before the first snowfall occurs. If you notice any of the following red flags, schedule an appointment with a roof maintenance service:

  • Worn or fissured caulk and rust stains on the flashing
  • Misshapen, dislodged or broken shingles
  • Worn or cracked rubber around the vent pipes
  • Moss or lichen build-up which can indicate roof decay

Clean Out Gutters.

When it comes to ice dams, gutters are also vulnerable to this accumulation of melted snow and standing water. When they are clogged with an excess of debris such as leaves, branches, dirt and grime, this makes it easy for snow and ice to pile inside too, so make sure you clear out all gutters on a consistent basis. This will ensure water can drain out of the gutters like it is supposed to, rather than being trapped inside. Here’s how to thoroughly clean, maintain and reinforce your gutters for the winter:

  • Use an extension ladder to safely access the gutters and clear out all debris with either a garden trowel or your gloved hands.
  • Run a hose at the end opposite from the downspout to flush hard-to-reach debris that you are unable to remove manually.
  • Tighten the downspout brackets and gutter hangers if their screws are loose.
  • Make sure the gutters are not swollen or indented from trapped standing water and replace any gutters that appear too worn.

Inspect Outdoor Pipes.

Frozen pipes are common in regions where the temperature often drops below 20 degrees in the winter, according to the home maintenance experts at SERVPRO. When pipes freeze, they are more likely to burst which can lead to extensive water damage in your home. Be sure to inspect all outdoor pipes—and even indoor pipes if they are located in unheated areas—then insulate them with hollow-core foam material from the hardware store to protect them from extreme cold weather. The following pipes are most at risk for freezing and bursting, so focus your efforts on these primarily:

  • Outdoor Pipes: hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines
  • Unheated Indoor Pipes: basements, crawl spaces, garages

Extreme weather conditions now and in coming months can result in all kinds of structural damage and escalated costs if you overlook the necessary precautions. However, the sooner you winterize your home, the better prepared you will be to ride out the chilly temperatures of these next several months. So follow this checklist now, then reward yourself later with a mug of cocoa and a blanket on the couch.

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Winter Preparations for Your Home
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As millions of Americans plan to weather the holidays and winter months at home due to COVID-19, it’s important to ensure those homes are ready to withstand the elements.
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