Get Your Home Ready for the Cold

Getting your home ready for the big chill now will save you time and money once winter sets in, especially if you are unprepared and problems arise.

A pre-winter maintenance involves checking both the exterior and interior of your home for any potential problems or areas in need of repair.

Heating system
Unless you really know what you are doing, get your heating system professionally inspected, adjusted and cleaned. This includes having your chimney or furnace vent inspected for any obstructions. A poorly maintained heating system not only uses energy less efficiently, it can break down, catch fire or become the source of carbon monoxide during heating months.

Ensure you have carbon monoxide detectors properly installed in all sleeping areas, and inspect these regularly to ensure they are working properly. Also have a ready supply of furnace filters on hand so you can change them regularly - usually once a month.

Keep the area around your furnace free of dust and clutter. If your furnace has a built-in humidifier, ensure it is clean and well-maintained. Replace any old pads, trays or other parts.

Windows, doors, baseboards
Check all weather seals on exterior doors and windows and replace any worn ones as necessary. Weather-stripping products generally last only a few years. Also check for draft problems around the interior of windows, doors and baseboards.

Light a match. If the flame moves or blows out, you have a draft problem. Use silicone caulking around doors and windows and spray foam for filling larger drafty cavities such as pipe outlets. As a temporary measure, you can apply clear plastic film over a window to stop drafts and prevent frost build-up. But these windows should be properly repaired or replaced.

Attics and basements
Since hot air rises, most heat loss occurs through your roof. Even if your attic is well-insulated, it may not necessarily be well-sealed. Insulation is designed to slow down heat loss rather than stop air flow.

Begin by sealing the gaps that lead from your living areas to your attic. These gaps serve as escape routes for heated air. Some accommodate wiring and pipes, while others are the result of bad craftsmanship and/or the normal settling of a structure.

A well-sealed attic, however, will not prevent winter moisture problems if your home has insufficient vents or these are not in good condition. A well-insulated home still needs good ventilation.

Heat loss can also occur through your basement if it is not well-insulated and subject to moisture buildup. You can control a damp basement by waterproofing the walls, installing a window exhaust fan, venting your clothes dryer to the outdoors and wrapping cold-water pipes with an insulation product.

Eaves, gutters
Clear leaves and debris from all eaves troughs, downspouts, drains and gutters. Flush with water. Make sure all downspouts are draining properly. Any obstruction can lead to ice build-up, which can cause more damage.

Siding, trim, foundation
Patch and seal open cracks. Paint any exterior surfaces in need of painting. Paint peeling off wood often means there is moisture in the wood. Purchase products at your local building supply store to help dry the wood before painting. Seal any openings where animals may take refuge. Close vents of unheated crawl spaces.

Root, shingles, flashing
Check your roof or hire someone to check it for you. Instead of risking life and limb to inspect it, first try to get a close view with binoculars. All shingles, flashings and the caulking on flashings should be in good shape. Check your attic for water spots and other signs of leakage, such as pinpoints of light on a bright day. Even if your roof leaks, it may not need to be replaced if it is less than 15 years old. Most holes in roofing or flashing can be easily patched.

Cover exterior AC units
Use an appropriate cover or winterized plastic to protect your outdoor air conditioning or window fan unit to stop drafts and heat loss.

Install a programmable thermostat
A programmable thermostat can cut your heating bill with every Celsius degree you lower the setting. If you have air conditioning, it also lowers your cooling bills. To ensure your water pipes don't freeze and burst, don't turn your thermostat below 14C. With air conditioning, don't go below 24C - you save by turning your thermostat up.

Check the fireplace
A lot of household heat escapes right up your fireplace chimney, even when not in use. Check the flue damper to see it fits snugly and is closed when not in use. Consider installing tight-fitting glass doors to control airflow.

If you use your fireplace regularly over the winter months, clean or hire a chimney sweep to dean your chimney before you start using it again. Removing any obstruction or build-up will ensure your fireplace operates problem-free through the winter.

Wrap your pipes
You can avoid burst pipes by wrapping foam tubing around them and taping it in place. Most tubing comes pre-slit for easy installation. Water pipe heat cables can also be purchased; they can keep water flowing at temperatures as low as -40C.

 
 

 

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