October is here, and in central NC that means we’re actually starting to get comfortably cool temperatures. Cold weather is right around the corner, and that means my to-do list has filled up as I winterize the house.
This year I have a number of regular things on my “Winterize Your Home” checklist as well as some special projects I’m doing to make our home safer, more efficient and more comfortable.
The first thing to take care of in the winter is the heating system. You want to make sure all your heating systems work well before the cold weather hits.
First, I am going to clear all the tall grass from around the heat pump and spray the coils off with the garden hose. That should remove any dirt, leaves, and grass from the coils. Even a little bit of stuff can lower the efficiency of your unit and make it work harder.
Then I plan to test the system. Let’s just make sure it works before we need it.
I plan to install new filters for the HVAC system. I plan on switching out the less restrictive filters I use in the summer and put in one that pulls more particulates out of the air in the winter month. That should keep us healthier. Either way, it’s important to switch out any dirty filters to operate your HVAC system efficiently.
Finally, turn down the thermostat as the weather cools. One of the best ways to save money is to make sure you keep the house “comfortably cool.” No flip-flops in January! (Except for those random 65 degree days we get once a winter.)
We’ll set the thermostat down to 67 degrees. When the outside temperature drops below 32 we drop the thermostat down to 64 at night. Brrr! We have a supplemental heat system that kicks on when the weather turns cold, but we try to keep the house cool enough not to use them much. Every time they turn on, I hear the electric meter saying “Dollar, Dollar, Dollar….”
We use gas logs in our fireplace to supplement our heat pump system.Since heat pumps aren’t always the most effective systems in really cold weather, this does a great job of knocking off the chill in the house.
Since the natural gas company doesn’t come into our neighborhood, we use 20 lb. LP gas tanks to fuel them. Each tank gives about 20 hours of burn time. That means part of my “winterize the house” routine is to test the gas logs before it gets cold. If the line is clogged, I have to disconnect the line and the logs and use an air compressor to blow out the lines.
I also make sure to exchange the spare LP tank. The last thing we want is to run out of gas during a cold snap. While we’ve replaced most of our warehouse club purchases, we kept our BJ’s Membership specifically because the cost to refill the LP gas tank was only $10 last year. That’s about half of what the gas station on the corner charges. The savings pretty much covers the membership.
Other things you may need to do:
- Get the fireplace and chimney cleaned, especially if you haven’t done it in a while.
- Lay in firewood and kindling. We can pick up a lot of useful sticks and pine cones to use in our fire pit as we clean up our yard this fall, and you may be able to do the same.
- If you use propane or LP gas, make sure you arrange to fill up your tanks before the cold weather hits.
- Clean up any space heaters you plan to use. A dusty or dirty heater poses a greater fire danger than a clean one.
- Reverse the flow of ceiling fans so they move warm air down into your rooms.
- Pull out your warm clothes! And pack your kid’s summer clothes away where they can’t find them.Dressing appropriately for the weather means you can keep your house a bit cooler.
- Pull out your warm blankets for your bedding too. Electric blankets keep us nice and toasty at night.
Before we moved into our house, I spent several hot June days putting extra insulation in the attic. I didn’t want to pay for hot (or cold) air just to have it escape into the atmosphere. So I’ve been thinking about where we have drafts in the house and coming up with ways to address them.
My big project this year will be to construct an insulated cover for the pull-down attic stairs. That should help keep the cold air from the attic from sinking into the hallway below.
I visualize a project of 2 X 4’s, plywood and a bit of the extra roll of insulation that I stored in the garage. Using those, some wood screws, and maybe a staple gun I should be able to blanket the top of the stairs.
The old window air conditioner in the basement window needs to come out. Having the window properly sealed should keep the basement warmer, so our wood floors won’t be quite so chilly.
My other big project is to pull out and install the storm windows. The previous owners left storm windows in our garage, and we’ve never installed them. If i can clean them up and install them, our windows will seal more tightly. The extra insulation would be well worth the trouble, though, and I have a goal of installing one window per weekend.
We also need to close off the vents to the basement crawl space. I have been considering cutting some foam rectangles to insulate the back of the closed vents. All that’s stopping me is materials. As I drive around town, I’m keeping an eye on the side of the road just in case any free insulation (also known as “road treasure”) has blown off the back of a pickup truck. Grins! (editor’s note…or we could just buy it, honey…)
Other things you may need to do:
- Check the insulation around doors and windows. Add weather strips, caulk or draft snakes as necessary.
- Make sure drapes and curtains work properly. You’ll want to open them on sunny days for more thermal energy but close them at night to keep the warm air in.
- Close off any vents in rooms you don’t use regularly and then close off the rooms.
Since frozen pipes can burst and flood your home at the worst possible time, your plumbing system may need some attention as well.
I have already shut off the outside hose faucets. In really cold weather those faucets can freeze, causing major plumbing headaches. We have fewer problems with that in Central NC, but I still need to protect our pipes.
Likewise, during the winter I make sure any garden hose that I’m not actively using gets removed from the spigot, drained and stored.
One little project is to do some insulation repair on the hot water tank. The old duct tape has let the fiberglass blanket slip off in sections. I just need to pull out some new duct tape and reattach it to make the hot water heater as efficient as possible. Insulating pipes is another good move to protect your home’s plumbing and keep the heat from your hot water from leaching out.
Other Places to Winterize
While heating, insulation, and plumbing are the big three things to winterize, there are some other things to worry about around the house and yard.
- Replace the batteries and test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Trim back bushes and grass around the house. If you have trees with dangling limbs, consider trimming those too, especially if they are near driveways, roofs or power lines.
- Winterize your lawn equipment if you don’t need to use it in the winter. Drain the gas from lawnmowers, weed trimmers, etc and store them appropriately.
- Clean the gutters. You want to make sure water doesn’t pool (and freeze) in your gutters and pull them off of your house.
- Get an emergency kit ready. When we lose power, it’s always in winter. Having extra jugs of water, flashlights that work and some emergency instant coffee really helps.
And for me, fix my gas grill! Because winter is also grill time!
So that’s my best tips for getting a house ready for the winter. Next up, how to get your car ready for the winter!
What other things do you do to winterize your house?
Feel free to download this printable version of our checklist: