Getting Your House Ready For The Icy Blasts Of Winter


October 26, 1991|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Are you ready to face the winter? Got your sweaters out, know where your boots are, have that snow scraper handy? How about your house? Is it ready? Doors and windows tight, storms in place, attics sealed?

Getting a house ready for winter may not be much fun, but it will pay off in a cozier season and fewer problems come spring. Protecting the house is especially important if you're working on it. Houses under rehab are vulnerable to weather damage that can be expensive to repair when the weather improves.

Here's a checklist to help you get things battened down.


*Windows. Do they close tightly? If there are gaps, can you weatherstrip, move the stops, or install sash locks to tighten them up?

If you're working on the house and plan on making major changes to the windows later, you can install temporary "storms" with kits of shrink-fit plastic, or seal gaps between sashes and frames with masking tape or duct tape.

*Doors. Weatherstrip around the frame to stop air infiltration; install a sweep or threshold to keep air, or snow and rain, from blowing in underneath.

*Existing insulation. If you installed attic insulation in the past few years, check on it. If it has compressed or gotten damaged, replace it or add another layer.

*Attic access. Make sure that hatches in the ceilings of heated rooms leading to unheated attic spaces are insulated and sealed with weatherstripping. Warm, moist air meeting cold dry air will cause "rain" in the attic that can reduce insulation value, cause mildew, rot out wood and ruin ceilings.

If pipes or ductwork run through the attic, make sure there are no gaps around them that would let warm air into the cool space.

*Heating systems. Change filters, test the system before it gets cold to see if there are any problems. If you have hot-water heat, you may need to bleed radiators to remove air bubbles. If you have an oil-fired system, you should already have a yearly service agreement; make sure it's serviced before you need it.

*Basements. Cold drafts make water pipes freeze. If there are gaps around foundation and first-floor joists, pack them with fiberglass batts. If a pipe does freeze, you can try using a hair dryer to thaw it, but it may break anyway as it thaws.

If you're rehabbing, design systems so pipes and ducts don't run through unheated spaces. If you're stuck at least this winter with pipes or ducts in bad places, insulate the ducts and wrap the pipes with heat tape and insulation.


*Gutters and downspouts. Clean out leaves and debris so water doesn't collect and freeze. In a climate that's freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw, ice buildup can force its way under roof shingles; when it melts, water can run inside walls.

*Hoses. Turn off water at inside shut-off; open exterior hose bibs to let water drain out before it can freeze. (If you leave the outside spigots open, any water trapped inside will have room to expand as it freezes.)

*Foundations. Frozen ground won't accept more water and may keep additional moisture from draining away from the house. And when the ground thaws, it may still release water toward the house. Clear out the ground around foundations to make sure leaves, debris and depressions left from plantings don't trap water.

*Air conditioners. Remove window units, clean them, drain them and put them away. If you can't get units out of the windows, remove the front cover and pack it with insulation, then weatherstrip around the unit. Wrap the outside with a piece of tarp or plastic.

While you're at it, you might make sure there's plenty of antifreeze in your car's radiator and that the battery's in good shape. So if worse comes to worst, you can always drive South.

Next: Indoor air quality.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.

If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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