Pre-Winter Checklists for Home Owners

Buying and owning a home is a major accomplishment for many. Homeownership brings a sense of pride and accomplishment, but it also comes with many responsibilities, such as providing timely maintenance. While homes must be properly cleaned and maintained on a regular basis, certain maintenance procedures must be done from season to season. This is important as seasonal conditions and behaviors can cause damage to the home, affect the indoor air quality, and/or raise energy usage. This is true for the winter months as well, and it is crucial that homeowners understand how to prepare their homes for the cold season. Winter weather presents a unique set of challenges and threats for homeowners, including damage from snow and ice and power outages during storms. To minimize the risks that these problems present, it will be necessary for residents to know what they are and the proactive measures they can take before winter strikes.

Central Heating

Central heating will provide household climate control in the form of warm air during the winter season. To keep the central heating system working in top condition or reduce the odds of a breakdown during the cold months, it will be necessary to perform maintenance. Maintenance tasks range from the simple and cheap to the complex and expensive. An example of simple and cheap maintenance includes testing the heating system, clearing all vents of obstructions, routinely replacing filters, and cleaning the humidifier. Opening vents near the floor and closing those close to the ceiling will also optimize the heating system's performance because of the fact that hot air rises. If the house has an attic, another simple method of upkeep involves clearing attic insulation from the vents to prevent ice build-up. Another simple technique involves clearing debris of any sort from vents at ridges and eaves. More complicated examples include insulating crawl spaces, basement walls, heating ducts, and pipes with R11-rated materials. Hiring a professional to check the heating system may uncover other expensive issues that could lead to breakdowns, which should be fixed before winter hits. Systems older than 15 years may require replacement. Programmable thermostats are another major improvement that can save money during both the winter and summer months.

Insulation

One of the most effective ways to achieve efficient climate control and reduce the costs associated with cold or hot weather is to properly insulate the home. In addition to insulating the heating system, crawl spaces, and basement, homeowners can optimize their heating bills by insulating the house's walls with R11-rated materials. Some older homes may also be able to use blown-in insulation for the walls, which is cheaper. Also, because cool air will move downward from the attic into the house while hot air will try to rise out of the house, it is also necessary to insulate the attic, ideally using R-30.

Attic Ventilation

During the wintertime, attic ventilation is an important factor in keeping the house warm. In the winter time, proper ventilation will, rather than interfere with insulation, actually mitigate the risk of ice damming. Ice damming occurs when a hot attic causes snow to melt off of the roof only to freeze all over again in the gutters, forming an ice blockage that can result in damage to the house's roof when ice then penetrates into the roof structure itself. Using attic fans to draw in cold air is a good way to prevent ice from melting on the roof and then re-freezing. Proper ventilation will also reduce the odds of water vapor condensing inside the insulation. Too many vents leading outside, however, can cause problems during hurricanes and increase the odds of embers entering the attic from nearby wildfires. Also check screens used to keep rodents and birds out of the attic and make sure that they're cleared.

Cleaning

A clean home is crucial for maintaining good health. This is important throughout the year, but it is particularly true during the winter season. During this time of year, windows and doors are kept closed more often in efforts to keep out the cold and keep in the warmth. This can affect the air quality, particularly if a home has mold, excess dust, etc. For the cleanest air possible, people should clean their home thoroughly before the winter season and cold temperatures begin. This includes, but is not limited to, vacuuming and rotating the mattress in the bedroom, throwing out old, expired items from the kitchen pantry and refrigerator, dusting furniture, fixtures, and accessories, as well as thoroughly vacuuming behind heavy pieces of furniture. Windows should be cleaned, as should indoor walls. Launder curtains and vacuum blinds. Any mold and mildew in the home should also be located and cleaned up prior to the winter season. Cleaning also includes the outside of the home. Homeowners should check gutters and downspouts and clean them, sweep chimneys, and drain the pool.

Windows and Doors

Winter weather can leech a significant amount of warmth from the house through its windows and doors. To prevent or mitigate this, homeowners should seal these areas to keep heat inside the house. The first step to detecting potential air leaks is to check for drafts by doors or windows. Rubber sealing is one way by which one can reinforce windows against winter weather, although when seals are removed, they may remove paint in the process. Using plastic shrink window insulation film is another solution. Just apply it to the window using double-stick tape, then heat it up with a hair dryer or other hot-air-blowing device to finish the application. Caulking and weather-stripping windows as well as doors can also close gaps where cold air can seep into a room from the outside or heat can escape from the house into the outside air. Replacing windows and doors with storm windows and doors is also effective, as is replacing wooden window frames that show signs of rot.

Exterior Walls

A potentially major problem with exterior walls is the potential for condensation. While the air inside the house warms up because of the heating system, the air striking the exterior walls outside is much cooler, and it works its way to the inside walls on the other side. As a result, the cold and warm air meet and condensation results. This can be made even worse when the house has humidifier systems that are running because more water vapor means more condensation at warmer temperatures. This is potentially dangerous because it can promote the growth of mold inside the walls or elsewhere. To prevent this, it will be necessary to shut off humidifiers in the house or insulate the inside of the exterior walls. Running bath fans for a while after a shower or bath is finished will also help reduce condensation along the exterior walls.

Snow Preparation

Snow and snowstorms can be dangerous for homes even with the right preparation. Heavy snowfalls can, for instance, cause damage to a house's roof. Loss of electricity during storms will shut down a home's heating system completely and leave the household in darkness. However, there are ways in which homeowners can reduce the risk of damage caused by snow during the winter season. Trimming trees to remove tree branches that can potentially damage power lines is one action to take before winter arrives. Having an ample backup supply of wood for the fireplace as well as batteries for flashlights can help keep the house warm and provide lighting in the event that the power goes out. Every family should have an emergency survival kit that includes changes of clothes, bottled water, medicine, non-perishable food, working flashlights, and a reserve supply of batteries. Ultimately, it may be necessary to evacuate the home in the event of a severe snowstorm or blizzard. To prepare for this, the family should have a car that's properly maintained and, prior to the onset of the winter season, a designated safe place to evacuate to in case of an emergency.