Putting the house away for the winter
|Edward McKinney of Spring Glen working on a swap cooler. Homeowners need to drain these each Autumn and cover them to prevent heat loss from their homes and buildings.|
The ritual of Spring cleaning a house is well known to almost everyone. The practice grew from the years when homes were heated by wood and coal, which could make for a smoky mess by Winters end.
But a ritual of preparing a home for Winter seems to not have the identity that Spring cleaning does, yet it's deadline is much more forceful. In the Spring cleaning can continue into the summer; but with Winter at the heals of Autumn, particularly in the high country of Carbon County, if the right things aren't done in a timely fashion, trouble can sometimes show up at the front door very quickly.
In a sense, preparing the house and yard for Winters cold onslaught is much like putting it away for the stormy season, because it is such a transition.
Probably the best way to make sure everything that needs to be done gets done is to rely on that old tried and true friend, the checklist.
Probably the first thing on the checklist should be the houses heating system. Some will say to test it first, but before starting it up it is always a good idea to install clean filters, unless of course that was done in the Spring when it was shut down. Many manufacturers suggest that a reputable heating contractor should check a homes heating system each fall, but budgets may not allow that. However, an official check of the system can save dollars later in the season, when not only a bare wallet may result, but also a cold house.
This is also a good time to restock supplies of fuel. Obviously this is not problem if a home has natural gas or is heated electrically, but for those that heat with wood, coal, or propane fall is a good time to stock up. Generally prices are lower before the season.
Another heating system is also due for a check at the beginning of the Winter; the hot water system. Fall is a good time to flush out the tank (drain about a gallon of water out of the tap) check the pressure release valve and make sure any insulation on the device is put on properly and not damaged. A water heater blanket can save a lot of money, particularly if the water heater is located in a cold part of the home or in an unheated basement.
Next check for drafts in the home or places where heat could sneak out on the coldest days. This will not only make those who live in the house more comfortable, but can also save a lot of money. With fuel costs escalating quickly, particularly in the way of natural gas and propane, it could save a lot of money as well. Install storm windows or have them put in if windows exist that are not fuel efficient. If the storm windows have weep holes, make sure they are cleaned out. If installation is not in the budget, cover the windows with plastic. Caulk or install weather stripping around all outside doors and windows and seal any cracks that may let air escape from the structure. One place people sometimes forget that warm air can escape is on outside walls where electrical plugs and switches are located. Installation pads can be purchased to protect these areas.
Next test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Often people use heat sources in the home, either as the primary or the back up source, that could create a fire. Supplementary sources of heat statistically cause many more fires than the primary sources, so detectors are important for safety. Carbon monoxide sensors are a good thing to have especially if fossil fuels are used to heat the home, because the gas is colorless and odorless and can sneak up on the inhabitants without them even knowing it is happening.
This is also a good time to think about having any chimneys or stove pipes cleaned. Some people take a brush and do the chimney sweeping themselves, but professionals can often do a better job and more safely as well.
While it is not necessarily an Autumn thing to do, now is a good time to clean the electric or gas clothes dryer and the vent that runs to the outside. A clogged up vent can make the dryer work harder and less efficiently. Dryer lint problems are also one of the major causes of house fires too. Check the vent flap outside to see that it is closing properly when the dryer is not in use.
There are also a lot of things that can go wrong outside the house that many people ignore or forget about until it is too late. The first is to be sure that all outside water connections are turned off and drained. Many homes have freezeless hydrants that have valves that go deep into the walls of the building to keep them from freezing. Generally supplies to these taps do not need to be shut off. If they are leave the taps open about halfway; this will keep moisture from freezing up in the unit and also keeps them from becoming stuck over the winter. Disconnect all hoses from hydrants so there is no water left in them to freeze up the metal. Store hoses so they aren't laying all over the place to prevent trips and falls or surprises under the snow for someone.
One of the things that some people forget about especially when the weather turns quickly is to drain, disconnect, cover and insulate swamp cooling systems. The water should be turned off and the line disconnected at some point to be sure it is drained. The tank on the cooler itself should be drained and the outside unit covered with a cover or some type of insulating blanket.. Some people also take off the grate inside the home and put insulation inside the air vent to be sure that rising heat in the house doesn't leave via that route.
Attics are also a place that need some attention prior to the winter. It is a good idea to check insulation there as well as any vents that exist. Any fans from the inside to the attic or from the attic outside need to be checked too. Be sure if they have heat sensitive switches they are adjusted properly for the colder weather.
The Fall is also a good time to do some outside maintenance painting. Look for areas that need touch up, or possibly total rennovation. The pleasant warm days make for a good working environment. Don't forget about paint on outbuildings, benches and other items on the property as well.
There are some other things to do outside as well. Look over the roof. See if there are missing or damaged shingles. Replace and repair them where needed to be sure nothing will leak during wet weather. Look at the flashing to be sure it is intact and that it is sealed properly.
There is one thing that needs to be done twice in the fall and that is cleaning and checking rain gutters. In the early fall check the gutters and downspouts for integrity and clean out any debris in them. After all the leaves fall off the trees, clean the gutters out once again. Freezing rain gutters are enough of a problem without having leaves blocking up the works too.
There is another area that also requires some attention before winter and that is the patio or deck. It's time to put away lawn furniture as well as clean and store the barbecue in some kind of sheltered area for the next few months. On a nice day this might also be the time to seal the deck to prevent damage during the winter.
Some homes also have storm or outside drains around them as well. These need to be cleaned regularly, particularly during leaf fall to keep the drain available in case Fall rain strikes heavily and suddenly.
Mobile home owners should also check heat tapes on pipes and be sure that skirting around the unit is on tight and insulated.
There are also some things that can be done to the yard that will make things easier in the Spring.
The first is to tie up juniper and evergreen plants that might be damaged by heavy snow and ice damage during the Winter. Wrap the plants with twine from the bottom to the top and then rerun it down to the bottom.
If there are young trees in the yard it is a good idea to stake them up and if the property owner desires to have trees or shrubs moved, Fall is the best time to do that.
Many people also have flower pots sitting around their yards. Those with annual plants in should be dumped out and tipped upside down to prevent them from freezing and cracking. Those with perennial plants should be packed in straw.
Those with small green houses can conserve energy by covering the inside of it with plastic.
Wintertime can be rough on homes, yards and people. But with a little preparation and some effort, the whole season can be a lot more comfortable.