Winter is Coming!

What to Know to Keep your Home Safe

While I’m writing this story in August it’s currently 88 degrees, but I—and any other lifelong Wisconites—don’t ever really forget that winter is coming. To experience four seasons is a part of the charm of living in the Midwest, but that means preparing for them too.

Freezing temperatures and potential polar vortexes will be here in the Fox Cities before we know it, and while it’s a part of life that we’re used to (as used to the air hurting your face can be!), that doesn’t mean we can slack when it comes to being diligent for the new, crisp season.

“Winterizing your home is a process in which you ready your home or cabin for winter. There are a few different ways to winterize your home depending upon your circumstance,” Troy Mueller, owner of Finding Time Contracting in Sherwood, says. “Every property is unique so it is generally not one size fits all… there are several issues that can arise from failure to properly winterize.”

“Power outages and furnace breakdown are the main concerns for winterizing,” Ryan Paschke, president of Jeff’s Water Conditioning & Greenville Plumping, adds. “If precautions are not taken during a power outage or furnace breakdown pipes will freeze and if water is not turned off will cause damage.”

Take it from our area experts—how to winterize your home to keep it safe:

Prevent Frozen Pipes
Temperatures that drop below freezing can easily cause the water in your pipes to freeze, which will expand and cause your pipes to burst.

“The resulting water damage can be extensive and very costly to repair,” Mueller explains. “Another issue is ice damming as a result of clogged gutters. When the snow builds up on the roof and then melting happens, water can get behind the flashing and get under the singles. It usually results in water damage to the ceiling and/or walls.

“If sump pump discharges do not have proper slope or freeze underground, the result is often a costly sump pump back up and water damage to the basement. If windows and doors do not seal properly, it generally results in frost building up on the interior that will ultimately ruin the seals and can cause damage to the interior trim.”

Experts suggest keeping your home at 60 degrees at minimum as most home insurance companies won’t cover burst pipes if the temperature in your home is too low. Keeping your thermostat at 60 degrees or above allows you to be assured that even the coldest areas in your house won’t drop to freezing temperatures.

“Consider installing an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system,” Paul Welhouse, owner of Welhouse Construction Services, LLC in Kaukauna, adds. “This will protect against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can prevent them from bursting. It’s also a good idea to learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located.”

Inspect your Chimney/Fireplace
If you have a fireplace, have the chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional to ensure it’s safe to use. Keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use to prevent drafts,” Welhouse suggests.”

Doing so will extend the life of your fireplace as the chimney sweep will be able to clean out any soot and debris buildup from the past year. This deep cleaning can also prevent smoke damage to your home and may also reduce the risk of a house fire.

Clean Out Your Gutters
Another important way to prepare your home for the winter season is by cleaning out your gutters. As gutters are what move the melting snow and water away from your home. After fall, there is a good chance that your gutters are clogged with debris and leaves and if they are clogged, they won’t be able to do their job properly.

“Inspect your roof for any damage or loose shingles and get them repaired,” Welhouse urges. “Clean out gutters and downspouts to ensure proper drainage, preventing ice dams from forming.”

“If you are living in the home for the winter, it can be as simple as cleaning out the gutters to help prevent ice damming,” Mueller adds. “You want to make sure that your sump pump discharge has plenty of slope so it does not freeze. If the property is a cabin that is closed for the winter, the process can be a little bit more involved.”

Keep Outdoor Items Safe
Outdoor furniture and other items are left to Mother Nature, and must be put away or covered for the winter:

  • Bring in outdoor furniture cushions and cover your patio furniture
  • If you have a fire pit, remove any ashes and debris (if wood-burning), or disconnect it from the propane tank
  • Cover up your grill, disconnect from the tank (if propane fueled), clean and cover it up
  • Clean your deck thoroughly by sweeping off the leaves, debris, and scrape off dirt and mildew

Inspect your Furnace and Replace the Filter
“Fall is a great time to have your furnace checked and cleaned and to ensure the air intakes and ducts are clean,” Mueller says. “Outdoor water spigots are not the frost-free variety, they need to be drained. If someone has underground water supply for irrigation, those lines also need to be drained and blown out or have antifreeze run through.”

Keep your home at a comfortable and cozy temperature all winter long by maintaining your HVAC system properly. To prepare for the winter season, hire the proper inspector to check on your furnace, boiler, and other components of your HVAC system so that you will be rest assured that your system is running efficiently. The inspector can also replace your filter for you.

You can also replace the filter yourself; this is usually needed if you have a furnace or a heat pump. Filters range in quality and can last from 3 months to a year. If you have pets or find that your home tends to be dustier, you may need to replace your filter more often.

Use a Programmable Thermostat
Many older thermostats don’t have advanced capabilities, which make it harder to keep on top of your heating costs.
“Consider installing a programmable thermostat or a smart thermostat,” Welhouse suggests. “This allows you to set specific temperatures for different times of the day, optimizing energy usage.

“Call your local power company to see if they conduct energy saving assessments. It’s often a free service where a representative will identify specific changes to make your home more energy efficient and save you money. In addition to the suggestions above, LED light bulbs and water heater blankets can also make a difference.”

You can also lower the temperature a few degrees when you sleep, as cooler temps help keep you asleep. Small adjustments like this can greatly save you money over time. A smart thermostat is one step above a digital programmable one. With a smart thermostat, you can download the connecting app to your phone and adjust, set a schedule, and get alerts straight from your phone to allow for even more fine-tuned control over your heating costs.

Stop Potential Leaks
Don’t lose valuable heat to lack of proper sealing! If your home doesn’t have proper sealing, it will surely be prone to cold drafts. Those drafts will push cold air into your rooms and will leave your heating system to run longer, which will lead to an increase in your monthly heating bills.

“Ensure that your home is adequately insulated. Check for any drafts around windows, doors, and other openings, and seal them using weatherstripping or caulk. Consider adding insulation in attics, basements, and crawl spaces to prevent heat loss or have it reviewed by a professional,” Welhouse says.

Check on the air tightness of your windows to greatly reduce the occurrence of drafts. If you locate any drafty windows, you can use calk to seal the cracks between the interior window trim and the wall. You can also install window film, which is a budget friendly way to greatly increase the insulation for your home. Window film kits can be purchased at any local home improvement store.

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