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Matthew Steger WIN Elizabethtown

Autumn Maintenance Tips

Getting 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 heating system serviced. Whether your 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 heat 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, your return air register louvers (if equipped) should be adjusted when going from cooling season to heating system. Remember, upper louvers should be closed/lower louvers should be open in heating season. Adjust your programmable thermostat's clock when the time changes back to daylight time. Furnace and heat pump air filters should also be changed regularly. Ideally, this should be done every 30~90 days, depending upon the type of filter used. Pleated 90 day air filters are better than the fiberglass ones. 1-year varieties are available in 4.5" and 7" thick options. When your heating system has its annual servicing, the technician should replace your air filter. Should your heating system and/or water heater vent into a chimney, ensure a properly sealed fit of the exhaust pipe into the chimney otherwise potentially dangerous exhaust gases (such as carbon monoxide) may enter the home. Furnace cement is used for this application.

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 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 roof 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, ensure your gutters and downspouts are clear. Once leaves drop, they often find their way into gutters which can lead to backups, roof leaks, and ice dams. Downspouts should discharge at least 4' from the foundation of homes, decks, and porches. Trees nearby or overhanging your roof should also be trimmed back.

3. If your 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. I recommend making sure that the  fireplace/chimney professional is CSIA certified. Cracks in chimney masonry can lead to further chimney damage or water entry into the home. A compromised or dirty flue can lead to a chimney fire or carbon monoxide backup into the home. A rain cap(s) should be installed at the top of all chimney flues, if not already present. Burn only seasoned (dry) wood to help prevent smoky fires and minimize creosote accumulation. Store firewood outside the home, well away from the home and above the ground with a tarp covering to keep the wood dry as well as to help keep insects away.

4. 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 call are R-49 (14" of cellulose or 20” of loose fill fiberglass). Important... ensure that the attic access panel or door is properly insulated and weather-stripped 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'. You may even consider a battery backup for this system especially if your basement is finished.

Doing these sort of proactive measures in the fall will allow you to enjoy winter in a warm and safe home.

You can find our full service list under the Services tab at the top of our website:  https://elizabethtown.wini.com

My full list of technical and home maintenance articles can be found here.

© 2020 Matthew Steger


Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), and an electrical engineer. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or msteger@wini.com.

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.