Winter is coming, and you know what that means – low temperatures and high utility bills. An ounce of preparation this winter can save you a bundle in utility and repair bills. Here are a few things you should do before the first freeze.
1. REPLACE THAT MERCURY THEROMOSTAT.
You don’t need to spend $250 on a NEST thermostat to get the energy savings of a modern unit – a programmable thermostat costs about $25, meaning that it can easily pay for itself in its first month of cold-weather use. Replacement is easy – you can do it yourself; just be sure that you shut off the furnace breaker before you begin the replacement process and follow the directions that come with your thermostat.
2. SHUT OFF YOUR EXTERIOR WATER FAUCETS.
Spigots, hose bibs, water sockets, or whatever you call them, are susceptible to freezing. Old fashioned faucets, like the one pictured, are especially vulnerable. It is highly recommended that you shut off the water supply at the interior water valve (where available) and drain the faucet to prevent freezing. In the event of a freeze, water will spew all over the place, likely behind your walls and all over your stuff, until you discover the leak. The leaks usually occur in your basement, which often takes days or weeks to find, easily causing thousands of dollars worth of damage in the interim. “Frost Proof” faucets can still freeze and cause damage to your pipes if the conditions are right, so don’t bet the ranch on their frost-proofiness. Shut them off before the first freeze.
3. GRAB YOUR GUN! … and a tube of caulk.
Your windows and doors are responsible for the majority of the air leaks in your home, and the tighter you can seal them up, the less energy you’ll waste. A tube of caulk can pay for itself dozens of times over several seasons before it dries out and cracks again, so grab a tube or two the next time you pass them at your local hardware store.
You’ll want to re-caulk areas where the old caulk has cracked (like in the picture) and you may need to do some scraping, so grab your 5-in-1 on your way outside. The insides of your windows and doors may need some sealing up too. Check around all sides of the frames for cracks- these are areas where cold air can enter your home.
4. SEAL IT UP.
Lock your windows. It’s that simple. Most modern windows seal much more tighly when they are locked. Since locking your windows is free, this is the best bang-for-the-buck piece of advice I can offer. It will only take 5 minutes and it will save you a few Lincolns each winter. Go get it done. I’ll wait.
Oh, hi! You’re back! Let’s move on to doors. Sealing up doors isn’t usually as easy as locking them, but you’re going to want to make sure they’re sealed up tightly, too. If your door does not shut very tightly, determine the about of space you have between the door and the jamb. Now, go buy some weather stripping that will fit in that space. Don’t neglect cellar, basement, and infrequently used side doors, as these are usually the leakiest doors in your home.
One last thing – your garage door. If you see any light coming through the top or bottom of the overhead door, or the frame around it, seal it up, too.
You were expecting to see this tip sooner in the post, weren’t you? Well, the thing is, insulation can be expensive to buy and time intensive to install. Your time and money would be better spent sealing up your home before you start an insulation project. Complete steps 3 and 4 before you tackle this step.
That being said, insulation really works. Insulating an attic is a good weekend project that will pay for itself in 3 to 5 years. If you’ve got an old, uninsulated, clapboard house, you have options! Insulation can be blown into the walls from the outside for around $2K-$4K, depending on the size of your house. The best insulation company I’ve found in the greater Cincinnati area is Priority One. Check them out at priorityinsulation.com, or give them a call at: 513-922-0203.
6. SHUT YOUR VENTS. (or don’t… keep reading)
Vents in your crawlspace have two main purposes:
1. Reducing humidity levels in your crawlspace during the summer months;
2. Increasing your utility bills and freezing your pipes in the winter months.
You’ll want to close your vents when you turn on your furnace for the first time in the fall and open it back up when you turn on the AC in the spring. Some people even block off the vent holes with styrofoam and caulk in the winter time. That seems a little overboard to me, but if your pipes are continuing to freeze, or you’re losing a noticeable amount of heat, it’s probably not a bad idea.
Think you’ll forget to shut or open your vents? Don’t worry, most people do. As a result, modern technology has blessed us with automatic vents that open at 70 degrees and shut at 40 degrees. They sell for $20-$30 each. Install them and forget about this chore for life, or at least until they break.
7. MIND YOUR CHIMNEY.
Chim-chimney, chim-chimney, chim-chim-charoo, you better keep it clean to avoid a fire in your flue. Chimney fires are damaging, scary things, and they’re worth every reasonable effort to avoid. Chimney fires are caused by a build up of creosote, which is the flammable organic stuff in the ash of a fire. It is basically made of sap and charcoal. Creosote condenses on your cold fireplace flue and can ignite after enough of it has built up. Call a local chimney company to come sweep the chimney if have any visible buildup of creosote in your flue. If you don’t have any creosote in your flue, great. As a preventative measure, it is a good idea to use a “creosote sweeping log” as a starter for your wood fires. It is also a good idea to NEVER BURN PINE, or any other sappy wood. That’s just asking for it…
The oft-neglected flue damper can be your home’s biggest energy hog if left open all winter. Since heat rises and chimneys go up, the heated air in your home will quickly flow out of the chimney if the damper is not closed. Not planning on ever using your fireplace? It is not a bad idea to put a layer of fiberglass insulation behind it and seal it off.
8. CLEAN YOUR GUTTERS.
After the last leaf falls off your trees, but before you lose your motivation, go ahead and clean out your gutters. If you wait until the spring, the leaves will turn into a pile of mush that is more likely to clog your gutters and downspouts, which can cause a myriad of issue that you don’t want. Get out there and get it done. In 6 months, you’ll thank me for the reminder.
Well, there you go. That’s my list of things to do before winter sets in. This list is not exhaustive, and there’s certainly more that you could do, but I think this is a good start for keeping Old-Man Winter in his place. Once this is all done you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate without stressing about things you should be doing to the house.
Have a Happy Winter. Cheers.