Winter is Coming…Is your home ready?

Whether you love it or hate it, winter weather will be here before we know it. With the fun parts of winter (hot cocoa! The holidays! Sweaters!) also comes the dreaded parts…higher energy bills, slippery pathways, and difficult driving conditions. We can’t make the snow go away, but we can help you save some money and energy in your home with some home prep tips from our Sustainable Building Specialist, Thom Phillips!

  • Have your heating system inspected and tuned up. Hire a reliable heating contractor to ensure that your system is clean and operating at its rated efficiency. This professional can also check for deadly carbon monoxide leaks.
  • If you have ceiling fans, reverse the rotation so that they push buoyant warm air back down to body level. This is especially important in rooms with very tall ceilings. Keep the fan speed low so that there is less air moving across your body, which can actually make it feel cooler.
  • Hire a home energy auditor or weatherization contractor to inspect and test your home. Some efficiency upgrades can be performed very reasonably and have very quick payback periods. There may also be incentives and tax credits available to further reduce the costs of upgrades.
  • Keep the cold out and the heat in. Make sure all windows are fully closed and locked. Caulk them if necessary, and don’t miss the edges of the trim or casing. If you have storm windows or doors, install them while the weather is still relatively mild. For air leaks at movable sashes, temporary caulk can be installed for the winter and removed in the spring (but don’t seal egress windows shut).
  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. Leaves and debris can accumulate and cause ice and water backups in the dead of winter. Make sure downspouts don’t drain onto walking surfaces as the resulting ice is a walking hazard.
  • Disconnect and drain water out of hoses. Shut off and drain hose spigots. If these freeze, the pipes can burst as ice expands, causing flooding. If you have frost-proof faucets, they typically are self-draining as long as the hose is not attached.
  • If you have an irrigation system, hire a professional to drain it with their high-powered air compressors to remove all of the water.
  • Mow leaves instead of raking them. Set your mower to mulch, or install a mulching blade to chop up the dry leaves and leave them on the lawn. They can decompose over winter and nourish the grass in the spring.
  • Check the operating manuals for your mower and other equipment for winterizing instructions. Products are available that can be added to the gasoline to prevent ‘varnishing’ and protect delicate seals inside the carburetors.
  • Buy a good hygrometer to measure indoor temperature and relative humidity, and monitor your indoor moisture level during the winter. Relative humidity levels of approximately 40% to 50% offer reasonable comfort while minimizing frost formation on windows.
  • Round up your snow shovel so it is easily accessible, and stock up on salt or ice melt early.
  • Wait until late-winter to prune trees. Specific information is available from the MSU Cooperative Extension Service.
  • If you have a sump pump, test it to make sure it is operating properly.
  • Have your chimney(s) inspected and cleaned as necessary.
  • Test your smoke and CO detectors, and replace the batteries if necessary. Install fire extinguishers as needed. Discuss and practice fire escape plans, and clean up any fire hazards.
  • Be extremely careful when using space heaters in your home. Never leave a space heater unattended or place it where people may bump into it or trip over it. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, an estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations. If you’re purchasing a new space heater, make sure you get one specific for your room size, and with up to date safety features. Read more here…

If severe winter weather is on the way, make sure your emergency supplies are restocked and easy to access: bottled water, quick meals, candles and matches, flashlights and extra batteries, blankets and sleeping bags, warm clothes, weather radio (battery operated or hand-crank), extra gallons of water if you use a well (for cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, flushing toilets, etc), and any other necessary items that you can easily stock up before the winter storm hits. 

Don’t forget that your car needs some extra love this time of year as well! Make sure you’re winter-roads ready with the following tips…

  • Restock any emergency supplies you keep in your car: water bottles, blankets or sleeping bag, salt or sand, mittens, hats, scarves, shovel, ice scraper, granola bars, hard candy, hand warmers (like these)
  • Make sure all fluids are topped off
  • Check your tires for worn treads, or swap out for snow tires
  • Check/replace your battery if necessary 

With just a little bit of preparation while the weather is still mild, you can save a lot of time and energy when the snow begins to fall!

Thom Phillips
Sustainable Building Specialist