First chill in the air reminds us to get the house ready for winter Here's a list of things to check, repair or replace before the snow flies


September 28, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

WE'VE JUST gotten that clarion call of changing seasons, the first real cold snap of the year. It wasn't that cold, just down to the 40s, but it's enough to make a homeowner think: What do I have to do to the house so it will withstand really bad weather?

Karol still has a twinge of unease when the temperatures first dip in the fall, thinking about that uninsulated water pipe to the washing machine, and its tendency to freeze and break. Never mind that this particular problem was several houses ago, and it was solved by a temperature-sensitive heat tape wrapped around the pipe. Remembering is another way of saying -- Do it now.

With El Nino already lurking in the South Pacific and threatening to make this winter stormier than usual, here are some of the things you might want to remind yourself to do in the near future:

* Check out the roof for leaks and potential leaks, and if you find problems, get them fixed now, before melting snow backs up most roofers' schedules.

Now is also the time to prevent ice damming, which occurs during freeze-and-thaw cycles -- melting water backs up under shingles and refreezes, then thaws and runs into the house.

Remedies include making sure the flashing around the gutter is secure, and running heating coils on the edge of the roof to keep ice and snow melting and running into the gutters. And if you haven't done it lately, now is the time to clean and repair the gutters.

* Get the chimney cleaned, if you use a fireplace or wood stove, and clean the fireplace or stove before lighting the first fire. This kind of on-demand heat is a nice transition between turning off the air conditioning and turning on the furnace.

While you're checking out the roof and the gutters, make sure chimney flashing is secure and there are no birds' nests sitting atop the flue.

* Clean the central heating system and replace the filter. If you've never cleaned the ductwork, or haven't done it for a long time, now is the time to get it done. Just imagine how much dog hair there might be down there.

Fortunately you don't have to do this yourself; there are companies that specialize in vacuuming ductwork. (Check your local phone book.)

* Check the furnace or boiler to make sure it's in good repair and will operate efficiently. Make sure boilers are full so all radiators will get hot. If you have an oil-fired system, have it checked and adjusted, if necessary.

* If you get rid of seasonal plants around the perimeter of the house, make sure you fill up the holes with dirt, so water will not pool around the foundation. The dry summer was particularly hard on grass, and fall is the time to plant seed or put in sod.

* If you have a sump pump, check to make sure it's working properly. If you think you might need a new pump soon, buy it now, while stores still have them in stock.

Make sure the pipe that ships water outside is sending it far enough from the house that it won't run back in -- or contribute to an ice problem on walks or driveways.

* If you have a problem pipe that freezes every winter, try to figure out now what is allowing it to get so cold. There could be a crack in a window nearby, or a gap in the foundation. Make sure all the crevices are insulated, and repair or caulk gaps and cracks.

You can also install heating tapes to keep the pipes warm. If you do get a frozen pipe, remember that the only safe ways to thaw it are with warm cloths or a hair dryer -- and you have to use caution with the hair dryer.

* Check around the house and garage for anything loose -- a shutter that's not fastened properly, a dead tree limb that's ready to snap -- and get everything battened down before winter storms turn it into a hazard.

* Start assembling bad-weather supplies -- kitty litter for traction, shovels for snow and picks for ice. Stock up on candles and flashlight batteries. There's probably no better way to ward off a bad winter than to make sure everybody's thoroughly prepared for it.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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