Winter home checklist helps ward off cold weather woes

HousingSeptember 29, 2012 

With snow on the mountaintops, now is the time to prepare your home for winter. Here are a few checklist items we recommend this time of year.

1. Remove, drain and store garden hoses. Even though the faucet handle is outside the house, the actual shutoff valve is inside the exterior wall, 8 to 14 inches into the home. This is why so much water drains when you disconnect the hose. With the hose in place, any water trapped in this space freezes and can potentially rupture the pipe.

Unfortunately, these types of ruptures occur behind the sheetrock, where damage initially goes undetected. Then when the weather warms and you turn on the faucet, the water damage shows. Storing hoses also prevents their unintentional use before snow falls, and you forget to check again.

2. Cut back perennials and mow grass. Cutting back perennials now will mean less work in the spring. This also helps remove obstacles near windows, which may need cleaning. Cutting back grass and perennials also gives voles and shrews less to eat and encourages them to move elsewhere during the winter.

3. Clean gutters, check downspouts. Once the leaves are off the trees, check the gutters. Even with recent rains, debris could still be sitting in the troughs. Having clean gutters will help during the winter freeze and thaws, and you'll be better prepared for spring rains. Make certain gutters and downspouts are properly attached with extenders directed away from the home. This helps minimize water close to the foundation that might work its way into the crawl space or the home's lower level.

4. Remove window screens and wash exterior windows. If screens inside the home are left up during the winter, the extra material creates a slight insulating layer, which leads to more condensation on the window and sills. Too much condensation can freeze windows shut and damage window frames. To prepare for next year's use, vacuum screens now to remove cottonwood and other material before you put them away. If temperatures are cold when you wash exterior windows, use car window washing solution to minimize freezing. Removing screens and washing windows will also help bring in as much sunlight as possible during the darkest days of winter.

5. Have your furnace checked. Potential issues can show up when the furnace restarts. Having the furnace serviced each fall can catch problems early and avert problems during a really cold spell. For gas forced-air systems, a dirty air filter impedes airflow, dramatically affects efficiency and reduces the heat that reaches colder spots in the home.

Be sure to have your service technician check the heat exchanger, humidifier and air cleaner. A cracked heat exchanger could let potentially deadly amounts of carbon monoxide into the home. Humidifiers are problematic and typically need servicing twice a year.

If your home is heated with a hot water baseboard system, have an extra zone valve on hand just in case one decides to quit during a cold spell. A zone valve works as an automatic on/off switch for the hot water that flows through the tubing. A malfunctioning zone valve will typically be stuck in either the "on" or "off" position. If stuck in the "on" position, the valve will let too much heat into the home. In the "off" position, no heat gets to that zone.

Lastly, replace batteries in digital thermostats this fall, when you change the batteries in the smoke detectors. Most homeowners don't realize that digital thermostats have batteries until after the expense of a service call.

6. Prepare for snow! After tuning up the snow blower and filling the gas can, take care of a couple more items:

7. Mark the driveway perimeter. Place long fiberglass stakes along the driveway perimeter before the ground freezes. Outlining the driveway in this way provides a guide for clearing snow. Otherwise, as winter progresses, the snow slowly encroaches and narrows your driveway width.

8. Silicone spray. Spray snow shovels and snowblower blades with a silicone spray and leave them outside for a few minutes to chill before use. The silicon helps prevent snow from clinging to the metal.

9. Fill storage bin. If you have a steep driveway or are concerned about icy conditions, how do you efficiently provide some traction in the driveway? One solution is to purchase a large dog food container with a screw-on lid high on the side. Put a scoop inside. Alaska Mill and Feed has these. Then, fill the container with a bag of small gravel available from Alaska Sand and Gravel. Keep the container under the eaves or by the door. You can easily remove a scoopful of gravel to broadcast on icy areas, yet keep contents dry from freezing into one big clump.

Going through our checklist keeps us motivated through this seasonal transition. Once these fall tasks are completed, we can get the winter toys out and be ready!


Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Daily News. Their email address is info@ramseyteam.com.

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