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Fall is the time to get winterized in preparation for the season. The last thing you want is to be putting storm windows on when it is 20 degrees outside and sleeting. Even worse is having your sprinkler system burst from frozen lines because you didn't get around to purging the system before freezing weather set in.
The checklist that follows gives an overview of winterizing the various systems of your home. From plumbing to the roof, we'll walk through each system and hit the major things... to take care of before winter, so you can enjoy the snow and not worry about your home.
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Let' start with the basics of making sure you have heat when you need it. The time to check that is in the fall—no later than the end of October. Give your system a test run through and make sure all systems are "GO".
Heating System Checklist
- Test run:
Turn the thermostat to heat mode and set it to 80 degrees, just for testing. You should hear the furnace turn on, and warm air should begin to blow within a few minutes. If the furnace is running fine, turn the thermostat back to its normal setting.... If it's not running properly, you can try to diagnose it as outlined in Gas Furnace Repair and Troubleshooting. Depending on what's wrong, you may be able to fix it yourself, or you may need to call a qualified service technician.
- Seasonal maintenance:
Either have the furnace checked by a service technician or do it yourself, as outlined in Seasonal Furnace Maintenance.
- Replace the air filter:
Put in a new, clean air filter. It's easy, just follow the steps in Furnace Filter Replacement.
If you have a propane or oil furnace, make sure to have your fuel storage tank topped off and ready to go.
- Heating vents:
Clear obstacles to heating vents, so air can freely flow. Many experts recommend having a service technician come in and clean the vents every year or two.
- Check for carbon monoxide leaks:
This silent killer can easily be detected with either an inexpensive test badge or battery-operated alarm. Whichever way you decide, just please decide to protect your family with one of these units.
See Testing for Carbon Monoxide for more information.
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- Test run:
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Often neglected is one of the most important components of a cooling system—the condensing unit outside that churn away in the heat of summer. This component needs a little attention, too, as winter approaches:
- Clean condensing unit of debris:
Using a hose with the spray-head set to the highest pressure, clean the fan blades and condensing coils clear of debris and dirt.
- Cover condensing unit:
Left unprotected, the condensing unit can be damaged by wet leaves and debris that contribute to rusting... and freezing of internal components. Although these units are designed for outdoor use, covering them with a breathable waterproof cover made for that purpose goes a long way to extending the life and efficient performance of the unit.
- Air conditioner cover:
As for window air conditioners, remove them and store for winter. If they can't be removed, then close the vents and make sure to get an air conditioning cover similar to the condensing unit cover described above.
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- Clean condensing unit of debris:
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Wood-burning Fireplace, Chimney and Flue
Although largely ignored in warm weather, the wood-burning fireplace and chimney can be a major source of cold air leaks and other issues in winter. So the chimney and fireplace need some inspection and service before winter sets in.
- Check to make sure the chimney is clear of any nests from birds, squirrels or other small animals.
- Check flue damper operation. Make sure it opens and closes fully, and that it is can be locked in the open or closed position.
- Check chimney draft. Make sure the chimney... will draw up the fire and smoke properly. Test this by taking several sheets of newspaper and rolling them up. Then with the fireplace damper in the open position, light the newspaper in the fireplace. The smoke should rise up the chimney. If it doesn't, you have an obstruction and need to call a professional in to clean the chimney of creosote and ash and possible debris.
- If it has been several years (or never) since you had your fireplace chimney cleaned, you should have it done by a professional chimney sweep. Definitely not a fun DIY project.
- Inspect the fire brick in the fireplace. If you see any open mortar joints, have them repaired immediately A fire can spread into the stud wall behind the masonry fire brick through open mortar joints.
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How to Protect Pipes from Freezing
Plumbing is especially susceptible to cold weather and freezing. Burst pipes from freezing can cause some of the most expensive repairs in the home. So let's go over some of the basics to make you have them covered.
- Insulate exposed piping:
If you have any exposed water or drain piping in uninsulated spaces, such as in a crawlspace, attic, outside walls, etc., make sure to insulate them with foam insulation at a minimum. Ideally, you should wrap them with electrical heating tape first, then... insulate them.
- Exterior faucets:
Known as hose bibbs or sill-cocks, the exterior faucet needs to have its water supply turned off inside the house, and you also need to drain water from it by opening up the exterior faucet. You may also want to consider an insulated cover for the hose bibb. And remember to disconnect your garden hoses from the sill cocks or outside faucets, and drain them if you store them outside.
- Seasonal shut-down:
If you are shutting down a property for several months you should always shut off the water supply and drain the plumbing system. If a leak were to occur without occupancy, the damage could be catastrophic. See How to Drain Your Home's Plumbing System.
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- Insulate exposed piping:
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Since this tutorial deals with easy home winterizing, we won't get into the importance of insulating your home. You already know that. But there are some areas you can easily insulate to help prepare for winter.
- Insulate your hot water tank with an insulating blanket you can buy at the hardware store.
- Insulate exterior outlets and switch plates with inexpensive foam sealing gasket.
- If you don't use your fireplace often and it leaks air, you can cut a piece of fiberglass... insulation and stuff it into the fireplace behind your glass doors to block the cold air coming down the chimney. Of course, you need to remove this when you make a fire.
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Doors and Windows
Infiltration of cold air from air leaks around doors and windows is a significant contributor to your heating bill, just as is poor insulation in the walls and ceiling. An easy way to reduce your heating bill is to reduce these drafts with simple weatherstripping.
- On a day when it's windy outside, close your windows and feel for air leaks. You can use an incense stick for this, too, if you don't mind the smell. Watch the smoke trail, and if it becomes anything other than vertical,... you have an air leak. Typically, air leaks will be found at the edges where the window is hinged, slides or meets another unit—such as between the two panels of a double-hung window.
- Although you can tape plastic over the windows to seal them, this can be expensive and be rather unattractive. It can also reduce much-needed natural sunlight in the winter unless you use the shrink-wrap type of plastic seal. So a better and easier solution is to use inexpensive rope caulk.
- Press the rope to caulk into all the joints where the air is leaking.
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- The easiest fix here is to check for weatherstripping on the side and bottoms of the doors. Install weatherstripping on any leaking doors.
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Moving to the outside of the home, you should do a quick check of the roof. Either hire someone to inspect the roof if you are not comfortable safely doing this yourself, or inspect it yourself, wearing well-fastened shoes with non-skid soles.
- Check the roof for missing or damaged shingles, and have them replaced.
- Check flashing around chimneys and other roof projections, which are often the source of leaks. Have repairs made, if necessary.
- Make sure gutters and downspouts are clean, having no... leaves. Wet leaves remaining in the gutters over winter add significant weight and volume to the gutter when frozen and increase the risk of damage.
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The sprinkler system should no be overlooked in preparing your home for winter.
- Have your sprinkler system winterized no later than the end of October.
- Winterizing should include turning off the water supply and blowing compressed air through the sprinkler lines to purge them of water and prevent them from freezing and bursting.
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Landscape and Outdoor Accessories
Lastly, you'll want to prepare your yard for winter, too. Let's take a look at what can be done for the grass, deck and outdoor amenities around the home.
- Excellent information about getting your yard ready for winter can be found from our Fall Garden Care.
- Cover patio furniture.
- If your deck needs it, consider giving it a fresh coat of sealer before winter.
- Drain the gas from your lawn mower, or just let the mower run until it is out of gas.
- Drain any water fountains, unplug the pumps and prepare... for winter.