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Preparing for Winter

OK, let’s 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 blow within a few minutes. If it’s running OK, turn the thermostat back to its normal setting. If it’s not running properly, you can try to diagnose it as outlined in Troubleshooting a Gas Furnace. Depending on what’s wrong, you can fix it yourself or you may need a qualified service technician.

Fuel:

  • 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 so that heating air vents can flow freely.

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.

Often neglected is one of the most important components of a cooling system. That is the condensing unit outside churning away in the heat of summer. Well this guy needs a little loving too as winter approaches:

Clean Condensing Unit of Debris:

  • Take a hose with the spray head set to “jet” or the highest pressure you have and clean the fan blades and condensing coils of 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.
  • And 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 a air conditioning cover similar to condensing unit cover described above.

Although not thought about much 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 a little going over before winter sets in.

Chimney and Fireplace

 

  • Check that the chimney is clear of any nests from birds, squirrels or other animals.
  • Check flue damper operation. Make sure it opens and closes fully, and that it is able to be locked in the open or closed position.
  • follow the steps in Furnace Filter Replacement

 

Fuel:

  • 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.
  • 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.

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 at all 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, and then insulate them.

Exterior Faucets

Known as hose bibs 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 bib. 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 have your plumbing system winterized by a professional plumber. If a leak were to occur without occupancy, the damage could be catastrophic.

Insulation

Insulating Tips

  • 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 remove this when you make a fire…

Infiltration of cold air from air leaks around doors and windows is as significant a contributor to your heating bill as is poor insulation in the walls and ceiling. An easy way to reduce you heating bill is to reduce these drafts with simple weatherstripping.

Windows

 

  • 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 at the edges where the window is hinge, 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 look bad. It can also reduce much needed light 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 caulk into all the joints where air is leaking.

 

Doors

 

  • The easiest fix here is to check for weatherstripping on the side and bottoms of the doors. Install weatherstripping on any leaking doors.

Roof

  • Check 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.
  • 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.

Outdoor Landscape

  • 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.