With cooler temperatures settling in across the country, homeowners should be thinking ahead in order to best prepare their homes for the winter months. According to the EPA, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent can be saved on utility costs by weatherizing homes. Studies also indicate these efforts could help reduce the nation’s total energy amount by 20 percent by 2025. Both the house itself and the yard can use attention heading into the winter.
Preparing the Home for Winter
This section includes a list of steps homeowners can take to prepare houses for the colder weather. Home winterization can keep the energy efficiency of a home at optimal levels and also reduce heating bills during the winter months.
- Install a programmable thermostat: This is the number one thing a homeowner could do to make their home more energy-efficient. Be mindful, and don’t heat the home when no one is in it. Sounds simple, but for every degree the thermostat is lowered during heating season, homeowners will save between one and three percent of the heating bill.
- Seal window and door cracks: A simple 1/8 inch gap running the length of a door can equal the same surface area as a brick missing from the exterior of the house. Most drafts around doors and windows can be easily fixed by installing weather stripping or caulking around windows, which should be done every other year. It’s important to remove the old, cracked caulk first. Then, prep, prime and paint window and door frames. To find leaks, place lit candles near suspected doors and windows. If the flame bounces around, there’s likely a leak.
- Insulate plumbing and pipes: Try to keep water pipes only in heated spaces. If that’s not possible or if pipes are close to exterior walls or windows, use insulation sleeves or wrapping. A space heater can also be used to blow heat over pipes in areas with limited or no heat.
- Replace summer screens: Swap screens with winter storm doors and windows. They will keep the cold elements out and make the inside of the home nice and cozy.
- Secure dryer vents and air intakes: While it’s a good idea for any air intake to be covered with a wire or mesh prevention barrier year round, it’s especially important in the winter months as animals may take advantage of any openings more aggressively once the cold sets in.
- Clear debris from gutter downspouts: Precipitation in a short amount of time from winter storms means excess runoff and potential flooding. Gutters and downspouts are the first line of defense in keeping the inside of a home dry. Make sure the downspouts are free of debris and that water is directed away from a home’s foundation. If water runs away from the foundation, odds are the rest of a home’s moisture defenses will do their job.
- Replace furnace filters: Furnace filters keep excess dust and particles from circulating in a home and help the furnace operate more efficiently. Some furnaces have metal filters that can be cleaned out by rinsing or vacuuming; others are disposable and need to be thrown out and replaced.
- Rethink the fireplace: Fireplaces can send as much as eight percent of heated air through the chimney, negating any heat burning wood emits. To keep more heated air indoors, use the fireplace only for special occasions. If that’s not an option, invest in a fireplace insert, which prevents the chimney from sucking heat from the living room.
- Drain garden hoses: Disconnect, drain and store garden houses to greatly extend their life and prevent bursting. Additionally, shut off exterior water spigots.
- Target the attic: The attic is where a lot of dollars in the form of warm furnace air escapes and where freezing air enters a home in the winter. Check the attic for proper air ventilation using passive vents and natural air flow. Find out how much insulation is recommended for an area and make sure the attic is adequately insulated.
- Prep the deck: Replace any splintered wood and apply new finish, stain and water repellent to the deck and patio so they can withstand the cold temperatures. When spring comes around, spending more time outside on the well-cared for deck may help decrease indoor air conditioning costs.
- Reverse fans: Most ceiling fans have a switch to reverse the direction of the blades. Since counterclockwise rotation produces a cool breeze, clockwise rotation makes the air warmer. In the winter, fans spin clockwise to pull air up from the floor, reducing drafts and evening out room temperatures. Using a ceiling fan allows homeowners to keep thermostats lower in the winter. Run fans on the lowest setting to maximize savings.
- Paint the exterior: When moisture enters the home through the porous exterior, it makes heating systems work extra hard. To lock moisture out, make sure the house’s exterior is painted every few years. Today’s state-of-the-art pain and primer products can be applied in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
Preparing the Yard for Winter
With the passing of warm summer days and the chilly days of winter around the corner, the last thing homeowners are thinking about is caring for their yard – but they should be. Now is the perfect time to prepare the lawn for the cold, dormant days of winter so it will spring to life when warm weather returns.
- The first step in preparing the yard for winter is to clean it up. Piles of leaves can suffocate a lawn and prevent it from getting sunlight and water. Once trees are done losing their leaves, remove them and any other debris from the lawn.
- Next, it’s important to prune plants, but don’t prune too much heading into the winter. Over pruning can cause new growth on plants, which can damage the plant in cold weather. Limit pruning to dead limbs or branches. The lawn also needs to be mowed and watered less frequently as it gets colder.
- Fertilizing is another important step in preparing the yard for winter. Replenish nutrients and prepare the lawn for winter hibernation by fertilizing before the ground freezes. Fertilized lawns are often greener and healthier come spring. Winter fertilizer should be applied after the last mowing of the season. Fertilizer should be watered in well, so be sure to complete this task before winterizing garden hoses or sprinkler systems.
- Slow-release fertilizer formulations are designed for the long haul. They supply nutrients gradually without burning the roots. One fertilizer application during the winter is usually recommended. Depending on the lawn and garden’s needs, an early-winter or late-winter application is better. If homeowners have heavy clay soil, fertilizer may be applied in mid-winter.
- For turfgrass, the most important nutrient that is needed in larger amounts and supplied more often is nitrogen. It helps “green up” grass, giving the lawn that all-important curb appeal. Typically, nitrogen is applied to lawns at the rate of one pound per 1,000 square feet. Depending on the type of turfgrass or if the lawn was weak the previous growing season, two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet may be better. Nitrogen fertilizer should be supplied in the early winter before the ground freezes.
- Perennial plants are typically fertilized in late winter, just before spring emergence or greenup. Early winter fertilizers may delay the dormancy of trees and shrubs, which can make them susceptible to injury. If winter fertilizer is applied to snowy or frozen ground, it may lead to fertilizer runoff into surface waters.
- It’s also important to insulate and protect plants from frost by adding mulch. There are different mulches available for different purposes.
- Winter’s low temperatures can also wreak havoc on irrigation and sprinkler systems. To prevent possible damage to the entire system, it needs to have all water blown out before winter. Freezing water will expand and can break pipes, fittings, valves, sprinklers, pumps or other system components. When homeowners are done watering their lawns for the year, they can call in a professional to properly winterize the irrigation system.
As seasons change, so do home maintenance requirements. Precautionary measures to prepare a home for climate fluctuations help minimize costly repairs and/or yard damage. While these tasks may seem daunting, they’ll protect property from severe damage. A few minutes of prevention now can save homeowners in the long run.
By Chuck Reger, painting expert with Five Star Painting; J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman; Sean LaPointe, owner of Mr. Electric of Phoenix Metro; Stephen Murphy, owner of The Grounds Guys of Needham, Massachusetts