You’ll get a season’s worth of savings and peace of mind by taking a few simple steps now to get your home ready for cold weather.
1. Clean the Gutters – After the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home’s gutters. You can do this by hand with a scraper or spatula and finish with a good hose rinse so that winter’s rain and melting snow can drain. Clogged drains can form ice dams (which makes water back up, freezes and leak into the house). Also, make sure your downspouts are carrying water away from the foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage. A good rule of thumb is to direct runoff at least 10 feet away from the house.
2. Check the Furnace – It’s a great idea to turn your furnace on now to make sure it’s working before the cold weather hits and your furnace contractor is busy and hard to schedule. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace but if the smell lasts a long time, shut it down and call a professional. It’s a good idea to have your furnace cleaned and tuned annually.
DID YOU KNOW? Disposable fiberglass filters trap a measly 10 to 40% of debris. Electostatic filters trap around 88%, and are much better at controlling the bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen that cause illness and irritation, though they cost more. Another good choice is a genuine HEPA filter, which can remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles. HEPA filters are based on Department of Energy standards. But avoid “HEPA-like” filters, which can be vastly less effective.
3. Change the Filter – Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed.
4. Face your Windows – Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens and put up storm windows, which provide an extra layer of protection and warmth for the home. Storm windows are particularly helpful if you have old, single-pane glass windows.
5. Inspect the Chimney – Ideally, spring is the time to think about your chimney, because chimney sweeps are crazy busy in the fall. That said, don’t put off your chimney needs before using your fireplace. The chimney doesn’t have to be swept every year but, it’s a good idea to at least have it inspected before use. Do note that woodstoves are a different beast and should be swept more than once a year. A general rule of thumb is that a cleaning should be performed for every ¼ inch of creosote because it can cause the mortar and the metal damper to rot. Tip! Buy a protective chimney cap with a screen. It keeps out foreign objects (birds, tennis balls) as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace’s walls. Select one based on durability, not appearance.
One Other Reminder: To keep out cold air, keep the chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. Woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn’t in use.
6. Reverse the Fan – Most people think of fans only when they want to be cool, but many ceiling units come with a handy switch that reverses the direction of the blades. Counterclockwise rotation produces cooling breezes while switching to clockwise makes it warmer: air pooled near the ceiling is circulated back into the living space – cutting your heating costs and keeping you more comfortable.
7. Ring the Alarm – Now is a great time to check the operation and change the batteries on your home’s smoke detectors. Fire officials say detectors should be replaced every 10 years. Test them — older ones in particular — with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the “test” button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works. Seriously guys – when was the last time you did this stuff? It’s a potential life saver and it will only take you 5 minutes. Also, invest in a carbon-monoxide detector; every home should have at least one.
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