Getting your house ready for winter weather

December 02, 2006|By ROB KASPER

When I saw the weekend forecast calling for plummeting temperatures and even a slight chance of snow showers, I figured it was time to batten down the household hatches.

It has been a benign fall offering plenty of opportunity to bask in the backyard, rake a few leaves in 70-degree weather and chortle over the fact that there was no need to fire up the furnace. That is over. We are moving from balmy to "brrrr." Tightwad that I am, I had an inkling it was time to finally turn on the heat when Christmas ads started showing up on television. Once I saw those sappy segments urging guys to buy jewelry for gals, and gals to buy electric shavers for guys, I knew cold weather, another traditional part of December, was just around the corner.

Now the meter in my basement is ticking away, a noise that translates into the cash register ringing at Washington Gas, our household's new supplier of the natural gas that heats our home's hot water radiator system. We are getting our gas from Washington this year because it was a little bit cheaper than the gas from BGE. Moreover, I thought the fuel from Washington might be different, perhaps more gaseous or flamboyant, than the gas from Baltimore. Yet when I peeked in the furnace the other night, I was disappointed to see it was the same old boring blue flame that was there in previous heating seasons.

Painful as it was for me to turn the thermostat up to 65 degrees, I did my seasonal duty. I also checked the radiators, turning their bleed valves with a radiator key until hot water gurgled out. Next, like a general inspecting his fort before a battle, I walked around the homestead, making sure it was ready for wintry blasts.

I disconnected the garden hose, the supplier of backyard water. During cold weather, water has the nasty habit of freezing. This can ruin a hose and cause the pipes near the outdoor faucet to rupture. I have been there, done that, and would just as soon skip that cold, soggy experience.

I lugged the hose into the basement, then turned off the isolation valve feeding the outdoor spigot. Some homes have frost-free faucets, with long valve stems that shut off the water inside the house. Not mine. I may not know much, but I do know where my faucet isolation valve is. It resides underneath a kitchen window, in a wall tucked behind a short cabinet. This cabinet holds brainy electronic devices that operate the television and the DVD player. I am afraid to move this cabinet, fearing that if one of the 4,000 or so wires comes loose, electronic havoc -- an audio- visual blackout -- would result.

I leaned over the cabinet to turn off the isolation valve. Then, ever so gingerly, I loosened the bleeder cap on its side, draining the water remaining in the piping. This step virtually guaranteed that the pipe would not rupture during a dark cold night. I was tense. The plastic cup that I held in my hand to catch the water was shaking. If the water spilled, the audio-visual brain could go bonkers.

I drew about half a cup of water from the bleeder cap, slowly removed the cup from the site, and then closed the operation. I wanted applause, but no one else was home. Truth be told, no one else in the household knew or cared about the isolation valve. The life of a bleeder valve brain surgeon can be a lonely one.

I also got a couple of the kitchen windows ready for winter, replacing their screens with glass panels, which I call storm windows. When I was a teenager, I earned a few bucks in the fall helping a neighbor hang storm windows. Her storm windows, heavy and made with wood frames, were hung from hinges at the top of the window frame. They never quite fit. I would use a bar of soap, a hammer and sometimes a file to force these big heavy storm windows into place.

In many homes, triple-track aluminum windows have replaced the wood-frame storms. Theoretically, with triple-track windows all you have to do get ready for cold weather is simply slide the screen up and the glass panel down. We have some triple-track windows on our home, but they are so old and the springs locking the glass panels in place are so feeble that when I manipulate them, the springs give way and they crash down. Several times I have carried a shattered sash to the hardware store. I have shelled out a few dollars for new glass. I had to wait a few days to get the window back, because some of my neighbors, struggling with their lousy triple tracks, had carted their broken windows in for repair.

In our kitchen, there are two renovated windows that employ the old-school concept of replacing the screens with glass panels, but have parts that fit snuggly in place. They are a joy, albeit a heavy one, to work with.

The other day, the screen came out of these windows and the glass slid in with a satisfying "click." A feeling of contentment washed over me. It almost made me forget that bitter weather was coming; that from now until March, I am going to spend most of my weekends indoors, listening to the gas meter tick.

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