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 (including changing the air filter regularly) is key to ensuring safe and reliable service from your heating system as well as helping to prevent expensive unforeseen repairs down the road. If your home has them, reverse your return louvers (upper louvers closed/lower louvers open in heating season). Adjust your programmable thermostat's clock when daylight saving time changes back to standard time. If your heating system vents into a chimney, make sure the vent connection is properly sealed with furnace cement to prevent possible exhaust gas (carbon monoxide) entry into the home.
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. Make sure all roof shingles are intact (you may need binoculars to pinpoint torn or missing shingles), make sure gutters and downspouts are clear and that the downspouts discharge at least 4' from your home, porch, or deck. Repairs to roofing (such as torn shingles, unsealed flashing, or damaged stack vent boots) should be performed by a qualified roofer. Installing a gutter covering product is a good idea so your gutters don't get clogged with leaves that lead to possible ice dams, roof leaks, or ice-filled gutters falling off your home this winter. If uncomfortable on a ladder, please call in a professional. Also, 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, have it cleaned and thoroughly inspected by a qualified CSIA certified fireplace/chimney professional. 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. Chimney flues should have a rain caps installed to prevent debris, water, animal, etc. entry which can damage or block your chimney. Burn only seasoned dry wood and keep wood piles well away (at least 20') from your home covered with a tarp. This helps prevent bringing insects into your home.
4. Disconnect hoses from outside hose bibs, dry out the hoses, and store them for spring. Also, if equipped, turn off the water supply to these exterior hose bibs. Most hose bibs have a shutoff valve in your basement. If you'd have frost-free hose bibs, a licensed plumber can install them. Supply plumbing 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. Feel for drafts around them in windy weather. 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 all exterior doors from inside; if you feel cold air or see traces of daylight coming in, repair the weatherstripping. Air leakage into the home increases your heating 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. Overhead fiberglass batts in the basement or crawlspace can fall down, or there may be small areas with no insulation. Adding insulation will help lower heating and cooling costs. Modern standards for attic insulation call for 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 has water in it, have a proper pump system installed by a licensed plumber and ensure that 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.
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© 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 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.