Countdown to Winter

20 hot tips for getting your house ready for the cold season.

Focus On Home

October 27, 2002|By Helen B. Jones | Helen B. Jones,Sun Staff

If your idea of preparing your home for winter is taking out the front screen door and putting in the storm door, it's pretty obvious that you're in need of some serious advice. While no one is saying you have to build a fortress around your place to keep the cold away, there are a number of important steps that you should take to winterize your property.

Mike Wixted, a Towson-based merchandising manager for Home Depot, says that if homeowners do nothing else to prepare for winter, they should do these three things: Stop cold air from getting into the home, make sure their heating system is in top-notch condition and get a programmable thermostat.

Here are details on those recommendations, plus other tips to help you prepare right now and in the next few weeks for the winter ahead. In addition to helping you stay cozy and safe, many of the tips will save you money on your energy bills. Now who's not in favor of that?

1. Stop cold air from getting into your home -- and warm air from leaving it -- by sealing drafty areas around doors and windows. Use weatherstripping, caulk and plastic to do the job. "Even newer homes have problems" with air leaks, says Mike Wixted of Home Depot.

Make sure your attic, exterior walls, crawl space and garage are properly insulated. The experts at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse say these are the major areas in a home that require insulation.

2. Have your heating system thoroughly inspected (and serviced, if necessary) by a trained professional.

3. Buy a programmable thermostat. "Make sure you're not heating the air space when you're not home," Wixted says. This device can keep your house temperature down when no one is home, raise it up when you return, and drop it back down at night when everyone is in bed. Just set it and forget it.

4. Drain water from outside faucets and turn off the water supply to those faucets. Why? No water in the pipes means no frozen water, and no chance of bursting pipes.

5.Insulate exposed interior pipes to keep them from freezing. In The Savvy Woman's Guide to Owning a Home (RSB Press, $14.95), author Kitty Werner suggests that you "look for pipes that are close to the outside of the house. Especially pipes in basements or that run along outside walls that are not insulated."

6. Get an energy audit of your home. An article in the September / October issue of Smart Homeowner magazine notes that "Energy audits should inform homeowners of where their homes are efficient and inefficient" and allow them to "prioritize which problems to fix."

For help in finding a certified local auditor, contact the Washington-based National Association of Energy Service Companies at 202-822-0950 (

7. Cover your window air conditioner to block the flow of air. A bonus, says Wixted, is that the covering keeps rust off the unit.

8. Check the condition of your snow shovel and replace it if it's too banged-up to do the job. If you have a snow blower, check now to see that it's in good working order. Or hire a company to keep your paths clear.

9. Buy your snow-melting materials as soon as they hit the store. In these snow-fearing parts, only an innocent would ask why. (Supplies should start appearing by the end of this month.)

10. Put an insulation blanket over your water heater. According to BGE's Web site, you can save $15 to $25 per year by doing this.

11.Lay in a supply of furnace filters. Change the filter monthly, or at least check it monthly. A clogged air filter makes the furnace work harder.

12. Protect your wood deck from the elements. Clean it, strip away any deteriorating finish and seal against possible moisture damage during the winter months. Or get a pro to do it.

13. Invest in a socket / light-switch insulation kit. You simply remove the cover plate from an electrical socket or light switch on an exterior wall, install the bit of insulation and replace the cover. "It's amazing how much air comes into a house, even from small spaces," Wixted says.

14.Get some "Extra Heat." This new product is a vent that attaches to your clothes-dryer exhaust and sends warm, moist air back into your house rather than outside. It retails for about $5 at Home Depot. Lowe's also offers a vent-conversion kit, for about $10.

15. Buy firewood if you didn't get it during the summer.

16. Have your chimney inspected before making your first fire of the season. "Don't take chances," Werner says. "This is cheap 'insurance.' "

17. Clean fireplaces and wood stoves. Make sure there are no ashes in them from previous fires.

18. Install glass doors in front of your fireplace to keep heat from the room from being drawn into the fireplace as the fire dies down.

19. Make sure that any room humidifiers and space heaters you use are working fine.

20.Inspect trees on your property, suggest the experts at HouseMaster, a national home inspection company. Trim dead branches that can become projectiles during a snowstorm.

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