In our first segment on winter in Washington, we looked at general predictions for our winter this year, then in our second installment we went on to look at getting your car ready for winter. Now it is time to move on to the terrifying world of chimneys, gutters, downspouts and window sealing – it’s time to look at winterizing your house.
Our two principle concerns in winterization are avoiding damage that might hit our Washington home insurance and avoiding excess energy costs that hit our wallets. In Washington State, the most common homeowner insurance claims are for water damage, wind and hail, liability and crime. Each of these types of claim have seasonal implications and water damage is likely to be your biggest concern in winterizing your house.
Start first with protecting your roof. You can check for missing shingles or curling that indicates shingles are aging without necessarily going up on the roof, but if you spot something from below, or if you have a known leak, you will likely need to get up close and personal. If you do have a known leak, check and repair any problems with roof coverings, flashing or attachments – like a satellite dish. Next, clean your gutters to prevent winter damage and trace your water flow to insure it is directed away from the foundation. Gutters that are clogged with leaves and debris favor the formation of ice dams, where water backs up and when the water freezes, it can cause water to seep into the house. Look for leaks and misaligned downspouts while you are cleaning the gutters to be certain the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.
Your other winter water concern is burst pipes. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we enjoy a climate where freezing temperatures occur relatively infrequently. However, in every winter we can expect some periods of cold where there is a risk of freezing pipes. The area most susceptible to freezing are exterior faucets although in severe weather, any pipe on an outside wall or in an unheated space like a garage or crawlspace may be at risk.
Shut off the water to exterior faucets if you can and then open the exterior faucet slightly to drain the line. If you can’t shut off the faucets, you can buy inexpensive Styrofoam covers that help insulate the spigot. For many areas of the Peninsula, these may provide sufficient protection in most winters.
Check all your pipes that pass through unheated spaces — crawlspaces, basements or garages – and if they are not already insulated, consider wrapping them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation. For extreme situations you can buy a heating tape. Check your local hardware store for the range of products available. In a cold snap, keeping a trickle of water running through the pipes may help prevent freezing, but note that five drips per second looks like a small steady stream and will use about 40 gallons a day.
After you have taken care of potential water problems, turn to the energy saving potential of air leakage and insulation. Check the common air leakage areas for drafts – recessed lighting, window and door frames and electrical outlets.
Apply caulking to drafty exterior doors and replace (or add) doors sweeps to complete the seal. Drafty windows should be caulked or fitted with storm windows. At a minimum you can use plastic storm window material. It may only last one season, but it is inexpensive and can be an excellent investment. Leaks around electrical outlets are very common when the outlets are on outside walls. Outlet gasket kits are readily available at your local hardware store and are easy to install.
By October, your heating system has been dormant for months. Turn it on and check to see that everything is working properly. You may want to invest in having the furnace cleaned and checked professionally, but at least change the furnace filter as you begin the heating season and check the filter monthly during the season. A dirty filter will compromise the flow of air and reduce efficiency. Also take the time to check ductwork and fix any gaps or vacuum ducts if needed. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, check for creosote buildup or, better yet, have a professional check it for you.
Finally, it is time to check your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries and test each detector. Check your fire extinguisher to make sure it is adequately charged and replace if necessary.