By Lee Wallender
Are self-congratulations in order? It might be okay to pat yourself on the back already. A large number of these pre-winter repairs, fixes, and inspections are so easy and inexpensive that it is inevitable you will get around to them.
In fact, you may wonder why you neglected to do these tasks in previous years. Within a couple of weekends, you can knock off all projects applicable to your home. By taking on these tasks well in advance of chilly winter months, you will ensure that your house remains warm, dry, and secure. Best of all, the chances of making expensive emergency calls to plumbers, electricians, roofers, and general contractors during the dead of winter will be greatly lessened!
Indoor home repairs and inspections to do before winter
During those favorable autumn days – well before winter rolls around – there are five simple indoor tasks you should perform to make sure that all systems are “go” throughout the upcoming cold season.
Have HVAC Company Inspect Heating System
Heating technicians go well beyond merely changing out a filter – which you already know how to do. They will dig deep in the heart of your furnace and calibrate the system so it will run in perfect condition. Furnaces are far too expensive to replace prior to the end of their intended lifespan. Scheduling a furnace tune-up every year before those icy winter days is preventative maintenance that all furnace owners should do.
Caulk and Weatherstrip Windows and Doors
On the first cool fall day when you run the heat, check windows and doors for air leakage. The old method of licking a finger and holding it near a window is obsolete. Instead, run a pressurization test, similar to one that an energy audit company would conduct.
- Turn off every appliance that is considered a combustion device: gas burning furnaces, water heaters, etc.
- Tightly shut all windows, chimney flues, and exterior doors.
- Turn on every fan that exhausts to the outside, like your clothes dryer and kitchen and bathroom ceiling fans.
- Light an incense stick. Hold it near places that typically leak, such as windows, exterior doors, skylights, etc. If smoke is pushed into the room, you have a leak worthy of sealing.
Seal accordingly with silicone caulk or, for larger gaps, use neoprene or foam weatherstripping.
Test Sump Pump
If you have a basement or crawlspace, there is a good chance that you may have a sump pump. Does it work? It is common to be unaware of sump pump operation.
Locate the pump at the lowest point in your house such as a basement or crawlspace. It will be located in a small, shallow well or hole. Test it by filling that well with water. It should automatically turn on. If it does not turn on, the GFCI outlet may need to be reset. If this does not work, you may need to replace the pump entirely.
Winterize Water Pipes
Exposed hot water supply pipes are energy vampires. When hot water runs through them then comes to rest (when the faucet is turned off), the water begins to cool down. Adding pipe insulation around hot water pipes reduces the need to create more hot water in the water heater, thus saving money. Soft neoprene insulation is best, but it is more expensive than foam. Use foam if cost is an issue.
Change Direction of Your Ceiling Fan
In summer, your ceiling fan saves the day. But that same fan can work against you in winter.
More accurately, the same fan rotation works against you. In colder months, you do not want air blowing downward. Flip the switch on the side of your ceiling fan that changes its direction, so that air now flows upward.
Do these outdoor home repairs and inspections before winter
When winter’s cold temperatures arrive, it becomes increasingly difficult to work outside, especially when dealing with electrical matters or trimming foliage. Fingers turn numb and less nimble and patience wears thin. That is why you should stage these pre-winter repairs and checks as early in fall as possible.
Store and Cover Outdoor Furniture and Plants
All moveable plants that are not considered winter tolerant should be brought in. Consult a gardening guide that addresses your area’s climate and educate yourself about which plants are cold-averse.
Patio furniture should be taken into a garage or, if left outside, securely covered. Dedicated patio furniture covers are best, since they have elastic bands or ties at the bottom to keep the covers secure when the wind kicks up. Or you can make your own for far less money by covering with thick, six-mil plastic sheeting, then banding at the bottom with bungee cords.
Turn Off and Cover Outdoor Faucets
If you have access to a shut-off valve for outdoor faucets, turn it off and then drain the rest of the water from the faucet.
If no access, purchase foam or hard-shell plastic faucet covers at your local hardware or home improvement store. Pull each cover tight to the faucet so that there are no gaps between the cover and the house siding.5
Fix Driveways and Walkways
Ice and snow disguise trip hazards in the form of cracks or, worse, lippage. Ice wedging and the freeze-thaw cycle wrecks pavement that has cracks and holes. In fact, these processes are the main cause for street potholes.6
Fill cracks with either a mineral-, asphalt-, or polymer-based crack sealant. Your type of pavement will determine the type of sealant to purchase.
Lippage is more difficult to fix. Individual pavers can be removed, the ground below regraded, then the pavers replace. Concrete lippage can only be fixed with the help of a professional concrete grinding service.
Repair Outdoor Lighting
Exterior lighting is a critical safety issue in winter. Test and repair all general lighting as well as pathway lights.
Look into features that save energy and money, as well as keep you safe, such as motion sensitive and light sensitive devices.
Trim Trees, Scale Back Shrubs
Prevent ice from over-burdening and damaging trees and shrubs by trimming and cutting them back.
In the event of a severe ice storm, tree branches will snap off like glass. Unusually heavy snow can force shrubs and frees down so far that they break.
Roof Repairs and Inspections to do Before Winter
Inspect Chimney and Clean Fireplace
Cleaning your fireplace and chimney can be a DIY job, as long as you have the right tools. Chimney brushes and accessories can be purchased online.
However, be sure to have a chimney sweep regularly inspect your chimney. DIY cleaning should augment rather than replace the services of a competent chimney sweep.
Clean Gutters and Downspouts
Overflowing gutters can ruin your shingles and lead to ice dams. Depending on the foliage in your area, you may need to clean the gutters once, twice, and maybe even a third time before winter sets in.
Check Roofing System and Shingles
Be a roofing detective and search all connection points where shingles meet flashing, bricks, plumbing stacks, and rubber boots.
Test shingles for leaks by looking inside the attic as a partner runs a water hose over the roof. Replace individual faulty shingles on a one-for-one basis.
Repair Water Leaks and Regrade Soil
Water leaks into the house siding or into the foundation should be fixed. Plug cracks in concrete foundations and apply sealant to the inside.
Regrade soil near the foundation to encourage water to flow away from the house, not toward it. This is a simple process of banking up soil a few inches higher against the foundation, so that water moves at least three feet away from the house.
Inspect and “Recharge” Attic Insulation
Blown-in or rolled-out fiberglass batt insulation can flatten down over time and become ineffective. Make sure you have a good amount of evenly distributed loose-fill insulation. Redistribute it by hand to areas where more of it is needed. “Recharge” it with extra batts or loose-fill insulation. Unless the existing insulation is moldy, soiled, or excessively covered in animal droppings, it does not need to be removed.
Before winter comes, be prudent and take decisive action with these home repairs and inspections that will make your winter warmer and safer.
Lee Wallender began remodeling homes when he transformed a World War I-era farmhouse into a comfortable new home. He has been writing about home remodeling on About Home Renovations since 2006.