Fall is here and there is plenty to look forward to. But the coming months are the ideal time to undertake some money saving winter-prep before all the distractions of the holiday season. For most, the winter cold brings potentially life-threatening hazards such as ice, snow and the increased risk of house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty heating equipment. Less serious but still best avoided are leaks and cracks in windows, walls and the foundations, which can all lead to unwanted increases in your heating bills as well as structural damage. But prepare properly and you can save money now and avoid potentially budget-busting issues down the line
Winter Prep Inside the Home
First, we’ll take a look at everything you can do indoors to help you prepare for winter, prevent illness and injury, and save money on your heating bill.
Make sure to change all the batteries in your smoke detectors and ensure they are working properly. House fires are most common during the winter months and the majority occur due to faulty heating equipment. Carbon monoxide detectors, meanwhile, must be replaced every 5 to 7 years. If you aren’t sure how old yours is, remove it to check and change out the batteries. Be aware that the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning often mimic the flu. This can lead to people ignoring the symptoms – a potentially fatal error. Be on the safe side by double checking that your detectors are in good working order.
Every home also needs at least one fire extinguisher. They have a shelf life, so check yours is in date and in an easy-to-access location like the kitchen. If you have multiple floors, it’s a good idea to invest in one for each story of your home. Air leaks, meanwhile, are common in older homes. A simple way to find them is by walking slowly around windows, doors and baseboards with an incense stick. If the smoke pulls sideways it means air is escaping. Locate the source of the leak and seal it. This method also works for testing ceiling-to-wall joints.
It is also well worth preparing your heating system for the winter, to ensure it is working as efficiently as possible. If you have forced air heat, replace the filter before running it the first time. If you have radiant heat, bleed the radiators and check the condition of your boiler. If you can afford it, it’s never a bad idea to have your heating system serviced by a professional. Cleaning fees are usually less than $200, but replacing an entire unit may run into the thousands of dollars. If you aren’t certain how to clean your heating system yourself, seek some help from a pro.
Investing in insulated curtains or drapes is also a good idea ahead of winter. Keeping them closed tight at night will help to insulate and hold warmth in. If you have a part of your home that receives little sunlight, it’s even worth keeping them closed all day. For south-facing windows that do receive a lot of sunlight, keep the curtains open and cover the window panes with plastic or bubble wrap. You’ll be shocked at how much warmer your home stays without turning up the thermostat.
Bubble wrap with the larger bubbles is best. Cut it to fit the window panes, spray with water and you should have no problems putting it up and taking it down. Plastic sheeting has a similar effect, but it isn’t as easy to remove and if it tears or stretches it will need to be replaced. Of course, bubble wrap or plastic covered windows aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing so you don’t have to leave it up all season. But it’s an easy way to generate some extra warmth on those coldest of winter days.
Also make sure to purchase a thermostat with a timer. As cold as winter is, you don’t need your heating on 24 hours a day. At night, blankets will keep you warm so heating the house would be a waste of energy and money. Set it to turn on an hour before you wake up and you’ll still find your house is a toasty enough that you won’t resent having to get out from under the covers too much. You can also lower it whilst you’re at work and set it to warm up for 30 minutes before you’re due back at home.
If you use space heaters, inspect them thoroughly before using them. Checking wires for any signs of damage is a must, as is cleaning the units thoroughly. A faulty space heater is a serious fire hazard. Ceiling fans, meanwhile, may be primarily used in summer, but they can be surprisingly helpful during the winter months as well. If you reverse them to rotate clockwise and run them on low, the fans will push warm air down and pull cooler air up, whilst keeping air moving to prevent that “stuffy” feeling in the home and helping to lower your heating bills.
Home-owners in cold climates should also ensure that all pipes are covered with insulated foam covering to prevent freezing and cracking. This is particularly important in crawl spaces and areas that are not well heated or insulated. The initial expense and effort will be a lot smaller than if a pipe bursts. It is also a good idea to use foam tape and door sweeps to prevent drafts on the bottoms of doors, particularly those that lead outside. You can also use a weighted door snake on interior doors with gaps. These are simple to DIY since they are just cloth tubes filled with beans or foam and can be made to match your décor.
Outside the Home
The winter months can also be hard on the exterior of the home. So make sure to take steps now to prevent damage that may lead to costly repairs and replacements later. Take this time to clean your windows thoroughly both inside and out. You’ll be able to spot potential cracks and leaks as you go. It is also a good idea to check the wood trim around your windows and doors for signs of rot and damage. Minwax has a wood hardener product that will help bind and reinforce decayed wood fibers. It seals out moisture and prepares the wood for filler.
You should also seal masonry and hard surfaces to prevent leaks and moisture damage. If there are large cracks, fill with a foam sealer first. Be sure to empty your garden hoses and detach and store them for the winter as well. Place an insulated protective cover over any outdoor faucets and drain fountains, pools, and birdbaths and cover them if necessary. Outside outlets or light switch plates, meanwhile, should be covered with foam seals and use weather stripping or caulk around cracks in doors and windows.
Cover and/or remove any window air conditioning units. Ideally, they should be taken out of the window and stored, but that isn’t always feasible. Air conditioning covers will help protect your unit and also keep your home warmer. And don’t forget to clean and inspect your gutters and flashings. Leaf buildup and other debris can cause your gutters to malfunction which invariably leads to water damage.
Don’t Forget Your Vehicle
Every climate is different, but it never hurts to outfit your vehicle with a winter-preparedness kit. Place it in your trunk and include a flashlight with batteries, blanket, snacks, water, gloves, a first-aid kit, jumper cables and a scraper.
Those who live in areas where snow is expected should also keep chains for tires and a small snow shovel, as well as a bag of cat litter or sand to help if you get stuck. Adding freeze resistant windshield wiper fluid to your reservoir and spraying it to run it through the lines is also a good idea ahead of the colder months. Also ensure that your car has the appropriate level of anti-freeze and have your radiator flushed if it’s been a while. Investing in all-weather tires and checking the air pressure is also a good move as cold air can reduce the air pressure in many tires.
It may seem like a lot to take on, but if you get an early start on your winter prep, you should find that you are all-set to last out the winter, safe and secure against the cold until spring.