Owning your own home is part of the American dream, and it’s a wise move for most people. It comes with some wonderful benefits—and also the responsibility for constant vigilance and some upkeep. Seasonal maintenance is part of those tasks, and you can also opt for some permanent upgrades that will improve year-round comfort, as well.
Service Your Heating System: Have an HVAC professional check the condition of your boiler, heat pump, or furnace before the heating season is in full swing. Also, replace the air filter(s) regularly, about monthly, to ensure efficient operation. If you slack on the air filter(s) the blower motor will have to work harder, and that could shorten its lifespan. If you have a forced-air system, a duct inspection is a good idea, as well. Do they need a good cleaning? Dirty ducts can harbor mold and allergens that are detrimental to human and pet health.
Add Draft Stoppers: If you haven’t installed door sweeps, draft stoppers at the bottom of doors also work well and are simple. Simple is good.
Add Rugs: If you have hard floors, rugs can make a huge difference in how a room feels, even if it’s not actually warmer. Another simple improvement that just works.
Inspect the Fireplace Chimney and Fireplace: An old-fashioned open-hearth fireplace will warm a room when you have a fire going but makes other rooms colder as it sucks air from the rest of the house. It's a nice place to hang the Christmas stockings, though! If you have a fireplace like this and you use it, a yearly cleaning is a good idea. You can get a chimney brush or call a pro, which I think is a good idea, unless you really know what you’re doing. When not in use, this handy balloon insert can help to keep your precious heat where it belongs, without the expense of a full fireplace insert.
Test Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors: This is a rough day for the dogs, but test and/or replace batteries in your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. I prefer just to replace the batteries on the same day every year.
Inspect Your Windows: If you have insulated windows, check them all out to ensure they’re in good shape. Add a little lubricant as you close and lock them to ensure that they slide smoothly in the spring. If you have single-pane windows, adding plastic film makes a huge difference in heat loss. For maximum benefit, you are supposed to heat-shrink the film with a hair dryer, which is an easy task. Also, the instructions say that you must install the kit when the exterior temperature is above 50° F. So don’t wait for winter!
Roof Inspection: Here’s a fair-weather task. If you’re comfortable getting up on the roof, take a good look. Are you seeing loose, damaged, or curling shingles? How much debris has been collected? You can also call a handyman or roofer for an inspection. Making repairs pronto, before winter arrives, is a good idea.
Clean Gutters and Downspouts: Depending on where you live, you may or may not have to deal with leaves in the gutters. But if you have gutters and downspouts, keeping them clear and in good condition can save you from problems like ice dams leading to costly repairs later.
Exterior Faucets: Drain your garden hoses and store them. If you have exterior frost-free faucets, you’re in good shape. If not, install insulated faucet covers on exterior faucets to prevent freezing.
Create Your Emergency Kit: Have you gotten your emergency kit together for the event of a power outage leaving you stranded at home? Some good ideas include nonperishable food, flashlights, a rechargeable lantern/power source, portable heat, and fresh water (opt for canned water, as bottled in plastic is only good for a year or so before the plastic leeches into the water).
Window Caulking: This task is basic maintenance. You may not need to do anything yearly except to check on how it’s all looking, but you won’t know without checking. Remember that caulk will have a certain working temperature so it’s important to plan ahead and re-apply caulking in warm weather.
Install Door Sweeps: Exterior doors should have door sweeps that seal the gap at the bottom of the door. The screw-on type has worked well for me, but you can also buy them with an adhesive strip in place of the screws. Air sealing like this is remarkably effective in keeping your home warm!
Draft-Proof Electrical Outlets: You can install these simple little foam gaskets behind electrical outlets and switch plates in exterior walls to prevent drafts. This may seem like a small thing but every little bit helps!
Install A Programmable/Smart Thermostat: A smart thermostat does so many things for you. You can program it with an app on your phone, control it remotely, and tie it in with your smart home system. It can learn your family’s habits and suggest ways for you to operate more efficiently and save money. You can also optimize your energy usage with precooling, which is having your smart thermostat manipulate your indoor air temperature so your air conditioner is running more using off-peak rates and minimally during the peak hours from 3–7 p.m.
Seal the Ductwork: Forced-air HVAC systems often have leaky ductwork. Sealing the joints between duct sections can improve the system’s efficiency, but don’t use duct tape! It just dries up and falls off over time. Professionals use a very sticky foil tape or a putty-type of product.
Insulate the Water Heater: If your water heater is located in a cool space like your basement, or an unheated space like your garage, a water heater insulation blanket will reduce heat loss.
Add A Whole-House Humidifier: Cold winter air can often feel dry, so adding moisture through your HVAC ductwork can help. A whole-house humidifier will be plumbed into a water line and will have a drain line, so you don’t have to worry about filling or draining it.
Insulate the Attic and Exterior Walls: Admittedly, this is a big job and is not a do-it-yourself task for most people. However, if your home needs some efficiency upgrades, the Inflation Reduction Act provides tax credits for doors and windows, heat pumps, heating equipment, air conditioners—and insulating materials!
Insulate the Attic Hatch: This feature is notorious for allowing your nice, warm interior air to escape into the attic. Here’s one way to address that problem.
Insulate the Garage: Just a couple of simple tasks for your home’s attached garage can make a huge difference. As always, air sealing with weatherstripping on all sides of the garage door is crucial. Then insulation can be a big help, as well. Keeping that attached space a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature will help with the inside temperature, even if only a bit.
Finally, get an energy assessment: Getting an energy audit or assessment is also covered under the IRA, up to $150, and is one of the smartest things you can do to improve your home’s long-term energy efficiency. Your assessment will be performed by a professional home energy auditor, who will give you a written report when the assessment is complete.
There truly is a lot you can do to winterize your home. You’ll end up taking a good look at your home’s systems, improving your winter comfort, and probably decreasing your energy usage, as well.
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