As I write this, the snowstorms, sub-zero temperatures and high-velocity and chilling winds of 2018 have not been kind to houses. Although householders should prepare their premises before the beginning of the cold season, there are many items that can still be attended to. Here are some pre-winter and current actions that you can take. Note: These tips refer to inhabited houses; vacant homes (as I wrote in a previous article) have different needs.
Outside the house, begin at the top by checking the roof for damaged shingles. Clean out gutters and downspouts during the fall and re-examine them before winter. Have a professional check the chimney and clean it if necessary. Test the fireplace flue to make sure that the seal is tight when the flue is closed. Drain the water from outside faucets, disconnect and store the hoses. Close vents that were opened during the warm weather. Put a fresh coat of sealant on your deck. Hire a professional to drain and blow out your sprinkler system. Drain and cover your outdoor swimming pool. Clean and store outdoor furniture (chairs, tables, umbrellas etc.) in order to keep them in good repair and to prevent them from becoming dangerous projectiles. Make certain that tree branches and limbs do not touch electrical wires; remove loose branches and limbs that could impact your home during heavy snowstorms and windstorms. If you live in an especially windy area, consider securing windows with roll-down shutters to prevent damage from windblown objects. Make sure that outdoor lighting is working—this is especially important in wintertime when darkness comes early. Check the trenching around the house to ascertain that rain and snow drain away from the house around the foundation.
Indoors, there are many things that you can do—most of them are simple and inexpensive. Change the furnace filters because dirty filters can restrict air flow and become a fire hazard. Turn your hot water heater down from the customary 140 degrees to 120 degrees; flush the hot water heater tank to remove sediment; check the pressure-relief valve. Insulate hot water pipes by installing (for example) polystyrene insulation with a slit in the middle so that it fits over the pipes. Put a blanket on your hot water heater. Put foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on the outdoor walls of your house and add insulation around these outlets and switch plates. Add insulation where needed, between walls, on the attic floor, and on the basement ceiling. A simple device like a draft snake, inserted in front of your outer doors, can ward off drafts. Inspect windows for cracks and broken glass, repair and replace as necessary, and add caulk or weather stripping around areas with draft leaks. Buy a window insulation kit and install sheeting as a buffer against drafts and to provide additional still air space to enhance your home’s ability to retain heat. If needed and if you can afford it, replace old windows with energy-efficient double-paned windows. Install storm doors and windows. Reverse your ceiling fans to the clockwise position to pull warm air downward. Remove window air conditioners or put covers on them to keep out the drafts. Check smoke alarms to make sure that they are in working order, that you have a sufficient number of these devices and that they are positioned correctly around the house. If you have a hot water radiator, bleed the valves to release any trapped air—this will increase heating efficiency. Save on energy costs by installing a programmable thermostat.
Before winter, have a professional inspection and tune-up of your heating system. It is also especially important that gas exhaust vents be kept free of ice and snow. Blockage of vents by ice and snow can produce a buildup of toxic fumes and carbon monoxide. Make sure that your CO detectors are in working order.
Ask your tax professional if the federal and state governments provide tax breaks for any of these expenditures.
By Vivian J. Oleen, Associate Broker, Sopher Realty