From New England to North Georgia, Puget Sound to South Texas, the cool edge of fall has arrived and the inevitable sting of winter is on our minds. We aren’t the only ones who must prepare for the inevitable cold weather - our homes need to be steeled against the ravages of cold, snow, and ice.
Here are some tips for preparing your home to help avoid a big problem in the dead of winter:
Winterize Outdoor Equipment
If you have power equipment that will spend the winter months in the shed, they should be properly prepped. For gasoline-powered items (like lawnmowers and weed whackers), do this:
- Remove the spark plug and place a few drops of oil (motor oil or 3-in-one household oil) in the cylinder. Replace the plug and turn the engine over to distribute the oil (for a two-stroke weed whacker, use appropriate two-stroke oil).
- Clean under the deck of the lawnmower to remover excess grass and grime. Wipe down the engine/shaft of the weed whacker.
- Use gasoline stabilizer in the remaining gas in the lawnmower tank, or be sure to run all the gas out with the last use of the season. It’s best to run the mixed gas out of two-stroke equipment.
Drain Outdoor Spigots
Remove hoses from outdoor faucets and, if possible, turn off the supply valve to them. If there is no supply valve, place insulative material around the faucet to protect it from the cold. Hang the hoses in the shed or garage. If you have an underground irrigation system, drain it too.
There is usually an external valve available to force compressed air through the system to remove any remaining water. If that’s not possible, keep the sprinkler heads open for a few says to allow enough evaporation so that frozen water won’t expand and cause damage. You may wish to hire a professional service to perform the winter maintenance, just to be certain.
Keep the Outdoors Out
Seal cracks and openings on the exterior of your home with caulk. Use foam or caulk to cover any air openings on or around windows, even if you have storm windows installed. The air between storm windows and the interior of your home is what insulates it against the cold. Make sure exterior doors are sealed properly all around.
Proper drainage from the roof is essential to avoiding damage from ice dams and/or accumulated snow and ice. Remove leaves and debris and be sure the downspouts are clear. Also, make sure the downspouts are directed away from your home's foundation (use extenders if necessary). If you have to get on the roof, be careful! But while you’re up there, visually inspect shingles and flashing around the chimney. You will also want to check for any obstructions in the chimney and proper operation of the flue.
Check around the garage and shed for snow shovels and snowmelt chemicals you’ll need when the first snow falls. Make sure your shovels are in working condition, and if you have snow blowing equipment, test it for proper operation. Check around sidewalks, steps, and the areas directly around the foundation for adverse drainage where water and ice may accumulate and, if necessary, fill it with soil. Ideally, the ground around the foundation should slope away from the house for 8-10 feet. This should also create swales that direct drainage toward the street.
Check the Furnace
Schedule a professional checkup to ensure all furnace components are in proper and safe working condition. Make sure to clean or change the furnace air filter. And finally, once the checkup is complete, turn the furnace on and check to be sure of adequate operation in all areas of the house.
Protect Outdoor Plants
Prune shrubs and bushes to no less than three feet from brick and siding. If necessary, cover especially vulnerable plants to protect them from snow and ice, and bring all fragile potted plants in for the winter. Make sure any large dead branches on trees (especially those overhanging the house) are removed, as heavy snow and ice can break them and cause a serious safety hazard.
Winter fun is just around the bend. It will be a lot easier to enjoy the winter weather and the upcoming holidays when you’ve planned ahead and taken care of maintenance items before they turn into major problems. Stay warm and have a safe and happy fall!