It’s Home Winterizing Time
Winters in Chicago can be pretty brutal on a home. One of the best ways to ensure yours “survives” is to prepare it for the harsh change in temperatures and conditions early. We’ve laid out some tips for a few key areas of concerned.
Landscape Love: If you want your roses, fruit plants or other flower plantings to be in great shape for peak bloom next spring, the six weeks prior to Spring (and the six weeks after blooming peaks, for that matter) are the best times for fertilization. For rose bushes, you’ll want a three inch layer of mulch around each stalk. Be sure to water before and after fertilization.
If your plants have already suffered signs of frost, leave them as they are until warmer weather arrives. Pruning or transplanting a damaged planting can kill it outright.
As for general pruning, the best time for that is when the average temperature drops below 35 degrees and most plants become dormant. But remember not to prune more than a quarter of the planting’s living tissue in a given year.
Cleaning the gutters now can save your home a world of hurt this winter.
Get Those Gutters Clean: One area many homeowners neglect as winter approaches is the home’s gutters. As part of the home’s exterior, gutters can take a real beating over the winter months. Keeping them clean and in fine working order can slow the need for costly repairs to more substantial and vital part’s of your home.
Cleaning your home’s gutters before the first heavy snowfall is essential in a city like Chicago. Clogged gutters can cause ice damns that lead to unnecessary added weight they–and your roof, for that matter–will have to sustain. Also, with resulting blockages over the winter months, water will run where it is able to, and sometimes that leads to seepage into the interior of your home–never a good thing.
Another tip you want to follow is to check for any pipes leading from the gutter that are askew in any way. You will want to ensure that water is not leaking near your home’s foundation, where it can make entry to your basement, and that runoff is efficiently lead 5 or more feet away from the home, if possible.
Keeping the Pipes Prepped: Chicago winters can be extremely harsh on pipes inside and outside our homes. How many times have we turned on the news in the dead of winter to find a city pipe burst because of the cold temperatures? How much more so are our home’s plumbing vulnerable to Chicago’s arctic blasts? We can all save ourselves a little headache if we follow these tips:
Always drain and disconnect garden hoses once that first Chicago frost hits.
Keep your thermostat above 55 degrees when away from your home. This temperature keeps it safe for pipes and house plants, alike.
Keeps exposed irrigation pipes wrapped in pipe insulation or insulated “faucet socks.” Old towels would work in a pinch also.
If the temperature dips too much, you’ll want to keep faucets at a very slow drip at night or when away in order to prevent the pipes from bursting. (Turn water off completely is an option if you’re going to be away for an extended period.) Because water expands when it freezes, pipes can burst when the water inside of them drops below freezing temperatures.
Insulation: Now is a great time to check that insulation in the attic. That’s probably the biggest place heat will escape from your home this winter, and all it takes is a little insulation replacement to shore up any gaps in your home’s envelope to see your heating costs decrease. A good rule of thumb is to always ensure you have at least 12 inches of insulation in the attic.
Heavy curtains can be a homeowner’s best friend during the winter months. During the day, if you keep them open and let in all the sunlight Chicago’s skyline can muster, you can cut down the amount of work your furnace unit will have to do to keep a nice temperature. When the sun’s set, you can draw the curtains and help trap that heat inside and double the impact (and savings).
Avoid escaping heat.
Sealing up those leaks in your home can prevent heat from escaping this winter and save you dollars on your energy bill.
Lose the Leaks: One of the first things you want to do to protect your home’s envelope is to find those peaky leaks that cause heat to escape from your home day in an day out.
A good way to do this is to take a sheet of newspaper and finely cut strips from one end to the middle of the sheet, creating a “fringe” on at least half the page. Next, on a particularly windy day, walk around your home’s draftiest areas and hold the fringed paper flush to any door and window frames’ surface and pinpoint exactly where hear could be escaping. It’s also useful to check outlets as well as they are a common source of heat loss.
Once you’ve identified the culprit areas, seal them with caulk, insulating rope bands or door sweeps to shore up those leaks.
For the home’s exterior, you’ll want to seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk or masonry sealer for loose bricks. Remember to check for cracks in your basement as well.
It’s important this time of year that you ensure your home’s foundation is well protected. Often homes in urban areas risk the intrusion of mice during cold winter months. And openings in the home’s foundation are like a red carpet rolled out to pests looking to get in from the cold.
Keeping and eagle eye out for gaps and cracks in your home’s basement is a great way to double the protection your home’s foundation enjoys.
Furnace, First and Foremost: Turn on your furnace in advance of any really cold temperatures to make sure that it’s functioning properly. You don’t want to turn up the thermostat on a blustery Chicago day just to find out it’s kicking out cold air. Call a professional if anything is amiss.
Long lasting odors, intermittent lapses in temperature, or any other sign of a malfunctioning furnace is not something you want to ignore, and a professional is who you want tinkering around your home’s heating system when things go awry.
As a rule, furnaces should probably be cleaned annually (and, again, by a furnace inspection professional).
Among the standard maintenance that should be done over the winter is changing the furnace filters regularly. Toss any dirty fiberglass filters and clean reusable ones carefully observing manufacturer guidelines.
And always, always, always, keep at least one working carbon monoxide detector in your home. If at all possible, install a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway outside of each bedroom and sleeping area. You’ll want to avoid locations that can be covered (by drapes, for instance). And, by all means, check batteries every month. Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors typically have a test function. But when in doubt, if the batteries are in question, replace them right away.
And while we’re on the subject of smoke detectors, check those as well. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years, at least. Batteries should be checked monthly.
Sealing the Envelope: Another area of concern for the winter months is the home’s duct system. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that, if a home’s duct system is not connected well and properly insulated, a home with central heating will lose up to 60% of its heated air before it even reaches the vents. The same level of heat loss is expected if the heat must travel through cold spaces.
Repair duct connections whenever you spot them amiss. Use a metal backed tape to seal gaps in the system. Contrary to what its name might imply, Duct tape does not tend to stand the test of time in these kinds of repairs.
You’ll also want to have your entire duct system vacuumed every few years to keep down the accumulation of dust, mites, pet hair, and other substances unfriendly to the air quality in your home.
The chimney is an important place to keep clean as its not only a location that can compromise your home’s heat retention but it can also cause the build up of smoke and dangerous carbon monoxide gasses. If you own a fireplace, remember to keep the chimney damper closed when not in use to limit heat loss.
Get your chimney swept and inspected by a certified professional every other year and ask for a Level 1 inspection when you do.
A Level 1 inspection provides for the examination of all readily accessible areas of the chimney.
There are protective caps and screens available for chimneys to keep out objects that can cause a backup.
Even more frequently than chimneys, get those woodstoves swept and cleaned. Inspect them every other month with regular use and sweep whenever there is more soot than surface visible inside. Glass doors are recommended to block escaping heat and should be kept closed when not in use.
Fire Up the Fans: Finally, one of the least known, but easiest and least expensive ways to make good use of the heat in your home is the practice of reversing the direction of your ceiling fans.
We all know the adage “Heat rises. Cold sinks” When you reverse your fan’s direction from its normal summer operation, it will cause warm air collecting near your ceiling to be pushed downward and forced into circulation.
A good rule of thumb is that for the summer, the fan should be turning clockwise, and for the winter, counterclockwise. And you thought those ceiling fans were meant to be out of use all winter.
If you are looking for a Handyman Company in the Chicago area, please call Punch List at 773-935-7727 or click here to fill out our online request form