Even though you rent your home, you still have to prepare for winter. That preparation may require coordination with your landlord or property manager, or you may have free rein to do as you wish. Either way, after winter storm Uri blasted through the U.S. in February of 2021, we now know that no matter where we live, we need to be prepared in case the electric grid can’t keep up. That preparation involves some thought about emergency situations, as well as just optimizing for the day-to-day.
First off, it’s good to communicate with your landlord or property manager proactively about needed maintenance and/or upgrades. A yearly HVAC and plumbing inspection is not just a good idea; it should be mandatory. Those systems are required to be in good operating order, and you may be unaware of issues until there’s an outright failure. An inspection can identify and solve issues before they become real problems at an inconvenient time. Plus, it’s not fair to renters to have systems fail during a storm or emergency and then have to wait as service techs make their way through all the service calls that stack up and that could have been avoided by inspections.
Part of an HVAC inspection is checking the heat output and checking the blower motor (fan) to make sure it’s opening within specs if you have a forced-air system. It’s also a good time to change out the furnace filter, which should be done about once per month. Letting gunk build up and clog the filter forces the blower to work harder. At this time, a duct inspection is also a good idea and can be another clue about the overall health of your home. You don’t want allergens and mold building up in your ductwork and then spreading throughout your home.
On your end, you can keep an eye on the systems you use day to day and occasionally have a look “under the hood.” Check out the pipes under the kitchen sink and bathroom sink. If you ever notice any leaks, address them yourself or call your landlord. It’s not really reasonable to hope that leaks just stop on their own. This isn’t technically “winterizing,” but it is being conscientious about the space you live in and realizing that winter can be punishing on buildings and their components. Going into cold weather with all systems in top condition is the best way.
Next up are some tasks to get through to make your space ready for cold weather.
Air Sealing: Keeping your warm, conditioned air inside and the cold air outside is a top priority. You can save a substantial amount of money and stay more comfortable year-round. Look for gaps around your door and window frames and use caulk, minimally expanding foam, or rope caulk to seal those gaps, as appropriate. You might also have gaps that lose heat around kitchen and bath fans, dryer vents, and around plumbing and electrical penetrations. Sealing those from the outside is best if you have that option. If not, sealing from inside with caulk, foam, or rope caulk works too. Here’s a lot more information about air sealing.
Install Door Sweeps: If your exterior doors have gaps at the bottom, you’re probably losing some heat and getting some cold drafts into the house. If you’re allowed to, you can install door sweeps that seal the gap. The screw-on type works well, but you can also get them with an adhesive strip in place of the screws. This type of air sealing works great at minimizing drafts and keeping your home warmer!
Use Draft Stoppers: If you can’t install door sweeps, draft stoppers at the bottom of doors also work well, are simple, and are budget-friendly.
Draft-Proof Electrical Outlets: The electrical outlets and switches in exterior walls are notorious for being drafty, but the fix is simple. Just install these basic little foam gaskets behind electrical outlets and switch plates in exterior walls to prevent drafts. Sure, this is pretty minor, but the gaskets are super cheap, and you only have to do it once, and it’s done for good. Then you’re saving money year-round.
Inspect Your Windows: Windows can be a big deal. If you live in a place with nice new double-pane windows, good for you. If not, you may find that they’re often sort of a pain. Older windows are often sticky and don’t move smoothly, but that’s easy. Add a little lubricant as you close and lock them to ensure that they slide smoothly in the spring.
Almost all single-pane windows will benefit from plastic film to cut the winter heat loss. You can install this product inside or outside, so what you choose may depend on your blinds and whether you have access to the outside of the windows. It’s really straightforward and simple to install, and heat shrinking the film makes it surprisingly clear.
Install A Smart Thermostat: You’ll probably need permission to install one of these, but if you have an older home it’ll be worth it. Even if you have to buy it yourself, you can almost certainly save more than the cost of the unit, and your local utility may have a rebate on it. This one is $80 with a $25 or more rebate, depending on where you live. A smart thermostat will help you save money by optimizing your heating schedule, and you can control it with an app at home or remotely. During the summer months, you might also take part in precooling, which is having your smart thermostat run your air conditioner earlier in the day to bring the temperature down using off-peak rates. Then, later in the day, you’ll have a cool home and can avoid cranking on the AC during the peak hours from 3–7 p.m.
Test Your Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors: Have you replaced the batteries in these units recently? Or this year? Or ever? It’s a good idea to stay on top of this, before they start with that horrendous beeping in the middle of the night.
Add Air Purification: Closing up your house for the winter can leave it feeling and smelling stale. A high-quality air purifier will handle cooking odors and pet dander, as well as mold spores, which are way unhealthy for some folks. You have control via the app, so you can set operating schedules as well as check the filter condition.
Assemble Your Emergency Kit: Being ready for an extended power outage seems like a no-brainer these days, so do you have your emergency kit ready? Of course, you need blankets and/or sleeping bags for keeping warm, but also clean drinking water (choose canned versus plastic bottles as it will last longer without leeching into the water), food you won’t need to cook, pet food (if necessary), flashlights, a rechargeable lantern/power source, and backup portable heat. This heater is rated for indoor use, but running your gas stove or range is not. Also, how about games and books and ways to keep occupied? Maybe you can have some fun during the downtime!
Whatever your winter experience turns out to be this year, you can’t go wrong in being prepared. And most of these action items are medium to high impact and low effort. Good luck!
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