Winter Home Maintenance Tips
Homes are a huge investment. We all know this. It’s likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. If we ever want a return on that investment it is important to take care of it, especially in winter. Winter is when a lot of the “unseen” damage can happen to a home. Cold temperatures can be brutal for some of a home’s most vital systems. We encourage you to do your own visual inspections and prepare for the season with these helpful tips.
Winterizing a home is essential to keeping materials free from harm during those cold winter months. Especially when it comes to anything related to water! When water freezes it expands and often the material its running through does not, like pipes for example. This can cause cracks, breakage and leaks that will haunt you in the coming months.
We spoke of winterizing a bit in our Fall Home Maintenance Tips blog but we’re going to cover a little more now that winter is upon us. First things first. Identify the systems that require water. This is going to be pipes, hose bibs, sprinklers, drip lines, irrigation, etc. Each system will require a slightly different method to keep them safe but the overall process will be the same. Just a note; All of these systems should be completely winterized before the temperatures drop below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, better to be safe than sorry am I right?
Regardless of the system you’re winterizing you’ll always start by shutting off any exterior water sources. There is no need for drip lines, sprinklers and irrigation systems in the Pacific Northwest during winter, let’s just be honest. After allowing the water to drain from them completely, each system may then be shut down. Doing this ensures that there is no water lingering in any of the lines, avoiding any potential to freeze, after all that is the goal here. If your exterior hose bib is not already freeze resistant, they too should be drained and shut off, as well as covered with an insulated cover. These covers are typically made of styrofoam, I’m sure you’ll recognize one when you see it.
Galvanized pipes and any above ground piping should be insulated as well. These piping systems can freeze even with no water present just simply because they are above ground and exposed to the cold. Now, how you insulate these pipes is up to you, so long as they stay warm. There are many products out there that will do the trick. Heat tape, heat rope, insulation tubing or even pool noodles will work. Anything to keep them away from all the wonderment and harshness that IS winter. The overall purpose here is to prevent freezing and avoid the costly nightmare associated with a burst or leaking pipe.
2. Crawlspace Inspection
If your home has a crawlspace this is another area that requires some seasonal attention. The reason is because Crawlspace vents allow air to circulate under the house. This alone shouldn’t freeze pipes but if there is no insulation under your floor or in proximity to your piping/plumbing freezing could happen.
Crawlspaces require less insulation because the floor joists present a shallower area for material and typically you would only insulate to the depth of the joist itself. There are a few different ways to do this, but many variables to uncover first. Some of which are the age of the home, layout of the home, depth of joists, etc. all of which make a difference in where and how much insulation you install. With some research you could do this project yourself, who doesn’t love a DIY, or you can hire an Insulation contractor if you for sure want the job done correctly. No judgement here.
While you’re under there check for any leaking, flooding or standing water. These are signs that something isn’t as it should be. And where there is water during winter there is potential for ice. Ice is great for skating and puddles are great for jumping but neither are ever great in your house. Consult a mitigation company right away before the problem persists or gets wors
3. Attic Inspection
So our pipes need insulating, our floor joists in the crawlspace need insulating, the rafters in our attics should be insulated too. We do this to save our electric bill and better regulate a room’s temperature. Really, so our HVACs don’t have to work overtime and so we don’t have to pay for it.
Typically you’ll find 12 inches of insulation in an attic of either blown fiberglass, blown cellulose or green products made of recycled materials. But there are variables to all this too. R value for instance is a variable to consider. The R value is the depth of the insulation and this R depth is varied based on circumstance. Pitch of the roof, age of the home, layout, etc. all have an affect on the R value. There is a mathematical way to determine R value but even that varies depending on the insulation material you choose.
So let’s work out a problem together. Grab a pencil because school is in. In our mathematical equation, R is the value we’re solving for. For every 1” of insulation the R value is determined by multiplying one of the following; 2.5 for blown fiberglass; 3.7 for cellulose; and 3.2 for fiberglass batting. Let’s just say you are trying to insulate an 8 inch depth between the attic joists, the side to side dimension doesn’t matter because you use a razor to fit that anyway. And you’re wanting to use blown cellulose. Multiply the cellulose 3.7 x 8 inches and get an R value of 29.6. Ta-da!
As for insulation material, it is not a requirement to keep insulation types consistent throughout the home so you can really choose whichever you’d like. For example if your house was made with cellulose in the walls but you prefer blown fiberglass then go ahead and use fiberglass. There is no real wrong answer. But there is a wrong way to install it based on code and all that so just make sure you do your homework or hire the Insulation contractor to do the homework for you. Our Guide to Home Insulation blog will help direct you too.
4. Drafty Areas
Drafty areas also impact our electric bills as they allow cold air to come in and warm air to leave. How do you check for a draft? You use the match test of course! How it works is you light a flame near the suspected drafty area and if it flickers or moves in a certain direction you’ve found your problem. Pretty simple and super neat, huh?
Once you know the source of the air leak it becomes simpler to fix. Common sources are electrical outlets, switches, windows, doors and recessed lighting. Basically anything that punctured drywall or allows access to the outdoors. For more tips on how to winterize these areas refer to our Fall Home Maintenance Tips.
5. Lock Inspection
This is a big safety item and it’s something that gets called out on Inspection Reports quite often. There are a lot of reasons your doors and windows should be able to lock, not just lock but latch. Safety might be the biggest but it is only one factor, drafts are another and just over all HVAC efficiency.
Make it a family affair! Have the kids each take a room and see who can complete a room check the fastest. Test out every window and door, both interior and exterior, to ensure it properly locks and latches. For the ones that don’t see if you can’t identify a cause. That will help you narrow down a repair solution.
6. Fire Extinguishers
How many do you have? Do you know where they are? Did you know that there are different types of extinguishers for different types of fires? This is a maintenance item that is easy to miss. Outta sight outta mind, right? After all, we keep them hidden away in our kitchen cupboards or nearby utility rooms, garages and outbuildings. But visually inspecting them every once in a while keeps them on our radar. And keeps us prepared.
Make sure you take note of expiration dates, and full gages as that indicates the end of a full charge. Where you’re hiding them. And which extinguishers are best for which types of fires. The manufacturer’s website can help answer these questions too.
7. Appliance Maintenance
When was the last time you cleaned your oven? Or checked your dishwasher for sludge? I’m sure your washer and dryer could use some attention. These appliances, among others, work hard for us every day. They provide us with comfort and convenience and are meant to make our daily living easier. All we have to do is maintain them. Well there is no better time than winter to address these loyal companions, we’re cooped up indoors anyway.
Ever wonder what those doohickies on the back of the fridge are? Well, they’re called coils and dirty fridge coils can actually keep the fridge from cooling the inside. If your beloved snack provider is struggling to get to its optimal temperatures, this is a good indication that the coils need a cleaning. Regular cleaning also prevents premature failure of such an important appliance. Save the Milk!
Another appliance worth saving, the Dryer. Lint builds up and if we don’t remove it then we are creating an incredible fire starter. Just cleaning the lint screen isn’t enough. Get the vacuum hose down into the trap as well. Cleaning the dryer ducts is a bigger project but something that shouldn’t be left undone for too long. Lint likes to collect there and sometimes critters like to collect there too because it’s so warm and cozy. How to clean these ducts can be found on our Appliance Callouts blog.
Also, cycling vinegar through your dishwasher and washing machine will go a long way to help clean and neutralize any odors. Wiping the insides out with a paper towel or rag will collect any accumulating residue or mildew as well. And replacing or cleaning filters in your range hood or fridge at least once a year is another good way to maintain these work horses.
8. Water Heater
Once a year it is recommended to drain your hot water heater. The reason? To remove any excess sediment or debris from the tank. We have a whole blog post on it, Everything you need to know about Water Heaters. But the short version is you start by turning off supply valves and the power or fuel source. Then attach a hose to the hose bib at the bottom, turn the spigot lefty loosey and let the bad boy drain. Always draining water away from the house, of course. Once the thing is drained and the bib is off, turn the fuel source back on. Open the valves. And the tank should auto fill with fresh water. Badda- Bing! You won’t have to do it again until next year.
Fun fact: That old stiff hose you used to drain the hot water from the tank, all of the sudden becomes a LOT easier to wind up.
9. Sump Pump
A sump pump’s job is to keep water out of your basement or crawlspace, because as we’ve talked about, puddles in your house are bad. Bad for a lot of reasons, but most importantly bad for your foundation. And frozen water near your foundation is VERY bad.
Testing the sump pump can be done a few different ways, as there are a few different varieties of pumps. Mostly you want to make sure that the system is plugged into a GFCI outlet and the cords are safe. Make sure you can hear it running. And check inside the pipe that drains the pump for any clogs, dirt or debris. If you find anything remove it as it is important that water be discharged properly. That is of course the system’s job.
We recommend keeping eyes on your sump pump twice a year, early winter and the end of spring when it rains the most is ideal. This just creates an awareness and helps catch any potential problems. Of course if you’re ever in any doubt, read the manual.
10. Be Prepared
Winter can be harsh. Storms are likely to occur and keeping your home safe is all well and good but keeping your family safe is number one. Our phones are also great resources when it comes to collecting information during an emergency but in case you don’t have access or service at the time of whatever you’re facing, it is also good to have the old fashion way of doing things (don’t feel limited to just these items). More information can be found on our blog Home Emergency Tips.
- Snow shovel
- Non-Perishable Food (for 2 and 4 legged family members.)
- Multi-Purpose Tool
- Candles & Matches
- Water (one gallon per person, per day.)
- Emergency First Aid Kit
- Emergency Contact Info
In case of an emergency it is also important to have a plan, and talk about that plan with all members of your family. Discuss with little ones the types of emergencies and identify responsibilities to each member so if/when the time comes you can work as a team to be as safe and prepared as possible. It doesn’t even hurt to practice the plan and their roll’s responsibilities so there is a familiarity if a situation ever were to arise, much like a school fire drill.
It is also important to stay informed, both during crisis and beforehand. Learn the different weather alerts. Know where your state/county/district resources are. Know the hotlines to call to collect information, etc. Take ownership of your education and be proactive.