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Winterize Your Home

Automotive, Energy Efficiency, HVAC, Landscaping November 4, 2003 Matt Weber



It’s that time again. The wind has a chilly bite. Brown and yellow leaves crunch underfoot. Goodbye Popsicles, hello icicles. Winter is approaching, and it has a long, cold stay planned for the upcoming months. Now is the time to throw up some roadblocks against Jack Frost, who promises merciless cold spells that can cause problems for your home, yard and auto.

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Around the House.  A little preventive maintenance can protect your property from the ravages of winter while you get a jump on next spring’s to-do list. Preparing your home will keep the elements outside and the warm and comfort inside. And considering the increasingly high cost of energy, making sure those dollars aren’t being wasted should keep a little cash in your wallet.

One task that helps clear the path for the warm air of your heating system is to replace the filters for HVAC and heating units. Check all heating units to make sure they work properly and clean all air ducts with a vacuum.

Also, check heating ducts for any holes. According to field research performed by the California Energy Commission, you can save roughly 10 percent of your heating bill by preventing leaky ducts. Rejoin duct sections that have separated by attaching a couple of screws in each joint. Wrap foil-type tape around the joint (regular duct tape will dry up and fall away over time).

Manufacturers recommend using a seven-day programmable thermostat, which is said to save as much as 30 percent on energy costs. Or you can cut down on your heating bill by simply turning the thermostat down at bedtime.

Sealing the house from air and water intrusion is another big step for winter preparedness. This helps prevent heat from escaping and helps prevent moisture absorption, which can lead to the dreaded mold growth. Weather-stripping and caulking are simple, inexpensive, but effective methods of reducing energy waste.

Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the building envelope has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents in particular can be problematic because they run from below the floor all the way through the roof. Seal them with caulking or weather-stripping.

Give wood decks and doors a coat of sealer before winter to extend the life of the wood.

Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air to enter the house. Install simple, precut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate and effectively prevent leaks.

Remove accumulated leaves or garbage from basement window wells. Replace the old caulking between the metal or cement block and the outside wall with new caulk. Make sure the grade at the bottom of each window well is 4 to 6 inches below the bottom of the window frame so water can drain.

Examine the walls and foundation for cracks. Caulk any cracks to keep moister out. Remove any lose caulking around windows, vents and other openings in the house and replace with new caulking. On windows, check the weather stripping between the stile (the movable glass section) and jamb. Replace it if needed. Remove the baseboards and trim around windows and doors on exterior walls, caulk and replace. Make sure all doors seal properly.

If your house has an unheated crawlspace, it’s advisable to get into the crawlspace and install insulation in the spaces between the floor joists to keep floors warm. The same thing applies to the attic. In an older home, attic insulation can be the most efficient way to cut heating costs. Look for signs of roof or flashing leaks on the rafters and insulation.

Proper attic insulation can be the most efficient way to cut heating costs. Check for signs of roof or flashing leaks on the rafters and insulation.

If you have a fireplace you aren’t using, it’s a good idea to open the damper, stuff in some fiberglass insulation and close the damper. Tape a note to the damper’s handle warning that the chimney is obstructed.

At the roof level, make sure your home is shedding water appropriately by cleaning downspouts and eaves. Remove any leaves and debris to prevent water from accumulating and freezing. All drainage channels should be properly joined, so make any necessary repairs. Be sure the downspout discharge opening is clear, not obstructed or flattened. For proper drainage the downspout openings should extend 6 feet away from the house or structure. If the downspout drains onto a paved surface, only 3 feet of clearance is required, but make sure the paved area is sloping away from the house. If it doesn’t, add an extension that diverts the water into a grassy area.

While checking the eaves, be sure water runs toward the downspouts and does not pool in low areas. As a rule of thumb, there should be a fall of 1/8 to 1/4 inches every 4 feet. Caulk any joints in the eaves that show signs of leakage. Also inspect soffits (the underside of the eaves) for moisture buildup.

And as long as you’re at the roof level, use a hose to clean away gravel deposits from the roof shingles. Monitor the gravel each year. Large deposits of gravel may indicate that the shingles should be replaced.

If you have aluminum or vinyl siding, inspect the weep-holes in the bottom of the profile. Dirt or insects may have blocked the holes. Use a thin, stiff wire and clean out any plugged holes. These holes allow moisture to escape from between the vapor barrier and the siding.

Once unwanted water intrusion has been addressed, focus on the water system that you do want. Keep your hot water hot by wrapping a water-heater blanket around your water heater, insulating the water pipes and even installing a timer on all electric water heaters.

 

Also, turn off the source to outside garden-hose taps and let the water drain out. This prevents water from freezing and expanding, which can crack pipes and spew gallons of water all over your home. Drain garden hoses, roll them up and hang them for winter storage. Also, drain and enclose any exterior sprinkler systems. Leave all taps slightly open. Insulate any exterior spigots and other pipes that are subject to freezing but can’t be drained or shut off.

 

More Quick Tips for Winterizing the Home

• Give wood decks and exterior doors a coat of sealer before it gets cold to extend the life of the wood.

• Close drapes at night to reduce drafts. The dead air between the drapes and the wall act as insulation.

• If you have hot water or electrical baseboard heating, use a vacuum to clean around the coils. This allows unobstructed circulation.

• After the first snowfall, compare the snow on your roof with the snow on your neighbor’s roof. If the roofs are similar in slope and direction of wind impact, the snow accumulation should be similar to your neighbor’s. If you have considerably less accumulation as compared to a similar roof, it could indicate heat loss due to inadequate insulation in the attic. Also, check the snow around the basement wall. Snow around the basement that has melted more than the snow on the lawn indicates heat loss. Seal it and install insulation accordingly.

 

The Yard and Garden. Dormant months lay ahead for the many yards that are subjected to harsh, cold temperatures. To help pave the way for a lush, green landscape next spring, keep a neat, well-tended yard throughout the winter.

Whether you live in the frigid North or the Deep South, the winter season will affect your grass. How the lawn responds depends on several factors, such as grass type, snowfall, temperature and the care given to the lawn just before the dawn of the cold season.

In Northern regions lawn care typically takes a backseat to snow shoveling during winter months when cool-season grasses have gone into dormancy. However, grass is a perennial plant, meaning it goes through a cycle of growth, dormancy and re-growth. As long as the ground is not frozen, the grass continues to grow at the root level, even when it appears dormant. Grass also accumulates energy throughout these dormant cycles, readying for spring’s re-growth cycle.

The best time to fertilize and reseed the lawn is during the fall, when the grass first goes into dormancy. An early feeding in autumn will give the roots a much-needed boost of nutrients for cold-season growth. A second feeding before the freezing temperatures hit will keep the grass strong until spring.

Many warm-season grasses in the southern regions go dormant as well, turning into a yellowish brown eyesore until spring. To keep a warm-season lawn green during winter, many homeowners overseed it with a cool-season grass, such as ryegrass. The cool-season grass hides the warm-season’s yellowish pallor with a temporary green lawn until the end of winter. As the weather warms, the permanent lawn replaces the temporary cool-season grass.

Autumn is also a great time to sod or reseed any bare patches in the lawn. After laying the new sod, moisten it with a hose for about a week to help the sod grow into the soil. Avoid laying sod in hot, arid weather, which inhibits root growth.

There are several ways to prep your yard for winter, from fertilizing and reseeding the lawn to trimming away dead tree limbs.

Pruning during the dormant phase is another method to encourage healthy plant growth in the spring. Pruning is actually more of a late-winter procedure than a pre-winter prep. Generally, the best time to prune woody plants is just before new growth starts. This is because as the days of late summer shorten, photosynthesis slows and sugars accumulate in the leaves. Before the leaves drop, the food moves from the foliage to the woody branches. Pruning these woody branches in the fall only wastes this stored energy needed to initiate spring growth. Later in the dormant phase, these stored nutrients move further down the body of the plant and pruning will not significantly affect the growth cycle.

Ideally, you’ll want to prune plants before new growth begins but after the last frost of the season. Pruning too early may promote new growth that will only be damaged by frost. But the worst time to prune is right after new leaves grow in the spring, when you’ll literally be nipping the plant in the bud.

 

Some additional winterizing guidelines for your yard and garden include:

Frost Protection — Some types of bushes or shrubs should be wrapped in burlap to protect them from frost damage. Spreading a layer of mulch at the base of these shrubs helps insulate them from cold temperatures.

Tree Care — Trees should be pruned just like any other garden plant. Consult a professional arborist concerning the cutting methods and appropriate times of year to prune your type of trees. But remember that tree branches carrying the weight of accumulated snow may break under the pressure, so keep limbs away from power lines, your roof, your gutters and the area where cars are parked.

Hardscaping — Concrete walkways and patios can be damaged from frost heaving in winter months. Frost heaving is the process of accumulated water freezing and “heaving” beneath a structure such as a concrete patio, building pressure from the underside of the patio. This can stress the concrete and cause cracks. Did you notice ice accumulation along your sidewalk last winter? If so, engineering a drainage system for the patio may add years to its life.

 

Autumn Auto Care (Courtesy ARA Content)

We all know it’s foolhardy to head out in Duluth in a poorly maintained vehicle in the dead of winter, but folks in Miami shouldn’t expect a free pass either.

“Whether you do your own maintenance or depend on the pros, fall service lets you or your technician undo the wear and tear of summer’s hot, dusty conditions while getting ready for cooler weather ahead,” says Ronald H. Weiner, president of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “This can help improve your gasoline mileage, reduce pollution, and maximize the future resale value of your car or truck.”

The ASE is a nonprofit independent group that tests and certifies the competence of auto technicians. ASE offers the following tips to give you a road map to fall car care.

First things first — Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules.

Engine Performance — Repair engine drivability problems such as hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. If you’re not sure how to tackle it yourself, take the car to a good repair shop.

Replace dirty filters — this includes filters for the air, fuel and PCV (positive crankcase ventilation).

Simple filter changes for your air, fuel and oil system will help your car’s performance during cold winter months.

Fuel — Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming.

Oil — Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual — more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.

Coolant System — the cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is usually recommended.) But never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled. Check the tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps and hoses.

Heater/Defroster — the heater and defroster must be in good working condition, not only for passenger comfort but also for driver visibility. If you’re not familiar with work on these systems, leave it to a pro.

Windshield Wipers — Replace old blades with rubber-clad blades to fight ice buildup. Stock up on windshield-washer solvent — you’ll be surprised how much you use. And carry an ice-scraper (it sure beats chipping away windshield ice with a credit card).

Battery — the only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. For routine care, scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections, clean all surfaces and retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. A word of caution: Removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles. Check your manual. And be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.

Lights — Inspect all lights and bulbs, replace burned-out bulbs and periodically clean road grime from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.

Exhaust System — Place your vehicle on a lift and examine the exhaust system for leaks. Inspect the trunk and floorboards for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.

Tires — Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing and cupping. Check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check the tire pressure once a month. Let the hot tires cool down before checking the pressure, and rotate the tires as recommended. Don’t forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.

Emergencies — Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.

 

Editor’s Note: The automotive portion of this article was provided by ARA Content.


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