Autumn Maintenance Tips To Help Get Your Home Ready For Winter
Autumn is here again. The leaves are changing, hockey season is here, and you will probably be spending a little less time outside. There are several important things that homeowners should do to help get their homes ready for winter.
The below items are things that home inspectors will be looking for and providing recommendations for improvement, if warranted.
1. Have your home’s heating system serviced. Whether the home is heated with a furnace, heat pump, or boiler, now is the time to have it professionally serviced to be sure it is ready for the cold months. You don’t want to wake up some January morning only to find that the heating system is no longer functioning. Regular preventive maintenance is key to ensuring safe and reliable service from your heating system as well as helping to prevent expensive unforeseen repairs down the road. Also, if your home has upper and lower return louvers, now is the time to open the bottom louvers and close the top louvers. Just remember that warm air rises and, during the cooler months, you want warm air to stay in the room. If you have a forced air system (furnace or heat pump), also make sure to replace or clean your air filter. A dirty air filter puts extra stress on your system and prevents proper filtering of the household air. Ideally, this should be done every 30~90 days, depending upon the type of filter you use. Pleated 90 day air filters are the best, although these do come in 4.5" and 7" thick 1-year varieties. When your system has its annual servicing, the technician should replace your air filter. Should your heating system (or even just a water heater) vent into a chimney, ensure a properly sealed fit of the exhaust system into the chimney. Furnace cement is used for this application.
If you have a programmable thermostat, you want to update its time and temperature settings for heating mode as they are considerably different than for cooling mode. If you have a manual thermostat, changing it to a programmable thermostat is a wise move assuming you have a fairly standard schedule. For heat pumps, make sure the programmable thermostat you install is specifically designed for heat pump use.
If your home has electric baseboard heat, they often accumulate dust over the spring and summer and when turning them on now, often causes a minor burning smell. You can use a vacuum cleaner’s hose attachment to clean out the dust from these units so all you get is heat when you run these units over the winter.
2. Check your roof, gutters and downspouts, and the grounds around your home. Ensure that all roof shingles are still present (you may need binoculars to pinpoint torn or missing shingles), and if any are missing or torn, repair is needed to help prevent further damage or leakage. Ensure that all flashing, stack vent boots, and joints are well sealed and intact. If uncomfortable on a ladder, please call in a professional. You don’t want to be eating Christmas dinner with your leg in a cast because you fell off the roof. Also, check and clean out the gutters and downspouts. Once the leaves start blowing around, they often find their way into gutters. Clogged gutters and downspouts that empty at the home’s foundation are a common cause for wet basements, foundation issues, and rodent/insect attraction. Gutters filled with leaves in November can become gutters that fall off the home in February due to the extra weight of ice and debris. You don’t want to HAVE to get up to the 2nd level gutters in February with an ice pick due to this problem. You may even want to have a gutter covering product installed. Also, trim nearby tree branches so that they don’t hit or damage your roof in the winter.
3. If the home has a fireplace or wood/coal stove and a chimney, now is the time to have it cleaned and thoroughly inspected by a qualified fireplace/chimney professional. Ensure that the professional is CSIA certified. Cracks in chimney mortar can allow for water to enter and cause extensive damage after just a few freeze and thaw cycles. A dirty, unmaintained fireplace and chimney can present a hazard once you start using the fireplace. Creosote can re-ignite leading to a chimney fire and a blocked or compromised flue can allow for carbon monoxide entry into the home. If your chimney is unlined or the liner is damaged, the professional chimney inspection can determine this and proper repairs can be made. A rain cap/spark arrestor on each flue will help prevent water, animals, and debris entry into the chimney. Burning only seasoned (dry) wood will help prevent smoky fires and minimize creosote accumulation. Store the firewood outside the home, away from the structure and above the ground with a tarp covering to keep the wood dry as well as to help keep insects away.
4. This is the time of year to disconnect hoses from outside hose bibs, dry out the hoses, and store them for spring. Also, if equipped, internally turn off the water supply to these exterior hose bibs. If not equipped, consideration may be given to having frost-free spigots installed by a licensed plumber. Plumbing pipes located in unheated basements, garages, or in unconditioned crawl spaces can be insulated to help prevent bursting pipes and help with energy efficiency
5. If your home has single pane windows and storm panes, ensure that the storm panes are in good condition, sealed properly, and aren’t cracked. A properly installed storm window can help prevent water and cold air infiltration and help lower your heating bills. Check the home’s exterior caulking (at doors, windows, siding junctions, wiring/pipe siding penetrations, etc.) and touch up as needed.
Also, check the weatherstripping at all exterior doors to ensure you don’t see daylight or feel drafts and repair if needed. Properly weatherstripped doors and windows can lower your heating and cooling costs.
6. Check the attic and basement insulation to ensure it is uniformly distributed and a sufficient thickness. Loose fill fiberglass or cellulose can be smoothed out to a more uniform thickness to help maximize its insulating properties. Fiberglass batts in the basement ceiling or crawlspace can fall down, or there may be small areas in the basement ceiling or crawl space with no insulation. Adding insulation will help lower heating and cooling costs. Modern standards for attic insulation are R-38 (approx. 11” of cellulose or 15” of loose fill fiberglass). Important... ensure that the attic access panel or door is properly insulated as this is a common location for heat loss and often is never properly insulated.
7. Ensure that the home’s sump pump is working properly. During the winter, we often have a few warm days which can allow snow to quickly melt and now is the time to ensure the sump pump is functional. If the sump pit has no pump but does have water accumulation, have a proper pump installed and ensure it discharges outside away from the home and any porch or deck at least 4 feet. You may even consider a battery backup for this system.
Doing these sort of proactive measures in the fall will allow you to enjoy winter in a warm and safe home.
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© 2014 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.