Winterizing your home
It’s time to protect yourself from the unpredictable, expensive
Winters have been pretty unpredictable in the Hoosier state lately.
Some years there are ice storms; others have barely seen any snow on the ground come Christmas and January. Others we’ve been blanketed with so much we’ve had to send our kids to school for a few extra makeup days in the summer.
But it’s always good to be prepared.
So, just in case, here is what to look for when winterizing your home.
Fireplaces and chimneys
If you’re dreaming of roasting chestnuts on an open fire in your living room and you haven’t tested out the old fireplace since you huddled in front of it last December, call someone to get it inspected and cleaned.
That goes for the chimney, too.
Both should be cleaned and inspected annually no matter what, as creosote, a by-product of burning that can coat the inside of the chimney, can lead to fires if chimneys are not cleaned before being used again. Once a fire starts there, it can easily spread into your walls.
And to put that fire out, firefighters are going to need to get inside those walls.
“If you get a fire in the wall, we’re going to come in and create some more damage,” said Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal Jim Murua of the Fort Wayne Fire Department. “It does really create havoc on your home.”
If you’re going to use a fireplace for a fire, keep a glass or metal fire screen around it and never leave it unattended. Do not burn accelerant to start or grow the fire and always put ashes in a metal container to allow them to safely cool for a day or so before disposing of them away from the home, as well, Murua said.
Heaters and furnaces
I you haven’t turned on your heating system already, now’s a good time to make sure it’s in working order.
Furnaces and heating systems should also be checked on an annual basis. So if your furnace makes a coughing noise or sound out of sorts when you flip it on, it’s always better to call a technician — even it it’s still putting out heat.
There could already be damage, and repairs could become costlier if there is a further breakdown, according to Matt Farmer, the assistant services manager at Korte Does it All.
“It can be bad,” he said.
Be prepared to change your filter every one to two months because the system will begin to work a little harder. This simple fix will keep your air cleaner throughout the winter as you keep the inside of your home nice and cozy.
If you have other means of heating, make sure it is designed for inside use. And always make sure it’s being used correctly. If you’ve got a wood-burning stove, follow the manufacturer’s instructions at all times. If you use a portable heater, one with a timer that shuts it off automatically might be a good idea.
“A lot of people use portable heaters this time of year, and you don’t want to put them to close to the curtains or the furniture,” Murua said.
Doing that, too, might bring firefighters on an unexpected visit to your home.
If you’ve been here for the ice storms we’ve seen in recent years in which people were left without power for sometimes as long as a week, you might know the value of having a good generator.
“With the Indiana weather we have, ice seems to be a constant,” Farmer said. “Generators are a lot more affordable than they used to be.”
Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
A faulty furnace can fill your home with carbon monoxide, according to Murua. If you have a newer home that seals air in really well, Murua said, this carbon monoxide has nowhere to escape and just keeps filling up your home minute after minute, hour after hour.
Pretty soon you’re looking at carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal.
Poisoning can also happen if your vents to the outside become blocked due to a buildup of snow. A carbon monoxide detector is a real asset for the home.
Carbon monoxide detectors range in price from about $10 to $100. If you have one, make sure it’s in proper working order. That mainly means checking its batteries.
That goes for your smoke detector, too, which you should already have.
Ever wake up on a cold winter morning and find out you have no water due to your pipes being frozen?
Now’s the time to take action to avoid such a miserable experience.
Pipes most vulnerable to freezing are located in un-insulated spaces — such as crawl spaces, basements, attics and garages or in exterior walls. You want to insulate those pipes with foam insulation at a minimum, according to Fort Wayne City Utilities.
Barring that, you may need to let the water run a little during very cold weather.
Always unhook a hose from an outside faucet, as well. Water can otherwise remain in the faucet, freeze and, because it expands and needs to go somewhere, burst the pipe. Depending on where the pipe is, it can cause water to gush into your walls or seep into your home.
Roof and gutters
Make sure your roof has all its shingles and that they are intact.
Missing, loose or damaged shingles may cause leaks during winter storms or allow water in once the snow atop your house melts. Damaged or missing shingles can also be signs of cracks in the roof that can cause heat loss inside the home.
“If you’ve got a bunch of snow and everyone’s house has snow on the roofs and your’s doesn’t, it means it melted and your house is losing heat,” said Doug Baldwin, owner of Cody’s Roofing.
If you have a sloped roof through which heat is escaping, you need to keep an eye out for icicles and ice dams. Both show your house is probably losing heat.
Products like heat tape and ice-melt rocks can be used to combat ice dams, but so, too, can calling a trained professional to remove the snow from the roof. Attic insulation might be needed to prevent heat loss, too. Leaves and other debris should also be cleaned from the gutters so melting snow and ice can be carried away when needed. Leaves can freeze in a downspout, which might cause it to burst or the gutters to overflow.
Spraying water with a garden hose down the downspout is a good way to make sure nothing is clogged, according to Fort Wayne City Utilities.
Windows and walls
If you’ve got storm windows, now’s the time to be putting them up or be thankful your house has modern multi-paned, energy-efficient windows. Barring that, a plethora of adhesive materials designed to go over windows are available at hardware stores everywhere.
You should also look at your exterior walls. “Cracks within the perimeter of your house can wreak havoc on your heating bill each month during the winter because warm air will seep out,” the local North Eastern Group Realty blog says. “Take a look around to find gaps that need caulked and weather stripping that needs repaired to make sure you keep the warm air in and the cold air out.”