Crisp days, cool nights and flocks of geese heading south are reminders to prepare your home for winter. Here are a few checklist items we recommend for this time of year and why.
Remove, drain and store garden hoses.
Even though faucet handles are outside the home, the actual shutoff valves can be 8 to 14 inches into the home. This is why so much water drains when you disconnect the hose. With the hose (or quick connects) still on, any water trapped inside freezes and potentially ruptures the pipe. These ruptures usually occur behind the Sheetrock where damage may go undetected for a while.
Draining and storing hoses also prevents unintentional use just before snow falls and the chance that you'll forget to remove the hose again. Plus, if for some reason a hose is needed during the winter, you can easily find it and it won't be frozen shut.
Clean gutters and check downspouts.
Once the leaves are off the trees, check and clean the gutters. With late rains, debris could still be in the troughs. Having clean gutters will help during winter freeze/thaws and to prepare for spring. Make certain gutters and downspouts are properly attached. Position gutter extenders away from the home to help keep draining water from seeping back into the crawlspace or the home's lower level.
Remove window screens and wash exterior windows.
If window screens are on the inside and stay up during the winter, they can act as a slight insulating layer that causes condensation on the windows and sills. Excess condensation can freeze windows shut and damage window frames. To prepare for next year's use, it is a good idea to vacuum all screens before you put them away to remove cottonwood and other material. 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 extra sunlight during the dreary parts of the winter.
Have the furnace checked.
Potential issues can show up when the furnace restarts. Annually servicing the furnace (before the temperature gets cold) will help catch problems early. For gas/forced air systems, a dirty air filter impedes airflow, dramatically decreases efficiency and reduces how much heat reaches the colder spots in the home. During servicing, also have the heat exchanger, humidifier and air cleaner checked. A cracked heat exchanger could let potentially deadly amounts of carbon monoxide into the home.
During this temperature transition, humidifiers are problematic, because as the temperature drops outside, the dew point also drops inside. Too much condensation on windows is a sign of high humidity in the home, so adjust accordingly.
For hot water baseboard heating, 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. If a zone valve quits, it sticks in either the "on" or "off" position. If stuck in the "on" position it will put too much heat into the home. In the "off" position, no heat is sent to that zone.
Prepare for snow.
After tuning up the snowblower and filling the gas can, here are a couple of other things to consider:
Use long, fiberglass stakes to outline the driveway perimeter before the ground freezes as a guide for how far to clear the snow. Otherwise, as the winter progresses, the snow border slowly encroaches and narrows the driveway width.
Use silicone spray on snow shovels and snow blower blades; then leave them outside for a few minutes to chill before use. The silicone helps prevent snow from clinging to the metal.
If you are concerned about icy conditions, purchase a scoop and a large dog food container with a screw top high on the side (Alaska Mill and Feed), then fill it with a bag of small gravel (Alaska Sand and Gravel). Kept under the eaves or by the door, the container keeps contents from freezing into one big clump so you can easily remove a scoopful of gravel to broadcast on icy areas.
Last, replace batteries in digital thermostats (including the fireplace switch) when you change the batteries in the smoke detectors in the fall. Date the batteries with a marker, so you know when you last changed them. Most homeowners don't realize that digital thermostats have batteries until after the expense of a service call.
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.