By Dave Lee
Freezing temps and harsh conditions can cause busted pipes, flooded basements, stressed roofing and many other issues during the winter. If you're a homeowner, you may have already learned this the hard way — but those lessons stop here.
Read on to avoid these common homeowner mistakes — plus unnecessary expenses and major headaches this winter.
When your heating unit has been off and your house's temperature takes a plunge, you might think that the best way to get the temperature back up is to blast your heater. But demanding quick miracles from your heating system will just boost your electric bills and stress out your unit.
Here are some alternative ways to get cozier at home:
There's nothing wrong with spring cleaning your home every year, but consider getting a head start in the winter. For example, did you receive a bunch of holiday gifts but don't have enough space in your home? Start organizing your home now, and get rid of unwanted items.
You should also clean a few areas in your home that haven't gotten much attention. For example, clean your aerators and shower heads to help maintain a strong water pressure. And vacuum your refrigerator coils to keep it running efficiently (and to save money on energy costs).
Ever heard of “Southwest injury” — more commonly known as “frost cracking?” Typical among fruit trees and other trees with thin bark, frost cracking usually happens on a sunny winter’s day. The sunlight will warm the bark and inner wood, but when the temperature suddenly drops, the bark cracks. This can not only make the tree look sad, but trunk cracking can affect a tree’s ability to ward off disease and pests.
Use tree guards to reflect the sunlight and prevent frost cracking. Just remember to remove the guards in the spring.
If you don't protect your lawn against snow, it’s at risk for snow mold. Snow mold is a cold-weather fungal disease that develops under the snow. Sounds delightful, right? Combined with the moisture that comes from the snow, this mold can create those unwanted pink and gray spots in your grass come springtime.
Consider mowing your grass short before winter takes hold. In the fall, always remove matted leaves and foliage from the lawn for better airflow, and avoid applying too much nitrogen to your lawn.
Related: How much do lawn care services cost?
Applying mulch to your plants after the first hard frost keeps the ground cold and helps your plants stay in dormancy through the winter. According to the Spruce, about a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch should do the trick. Check your mulch depth throughout the winter, as storms and strong winds might blow it away. Add more as needed — or even use leaves you’ve raked up.
Related: How much does mulch cost?
Water expands as it freezes, putting enormous pressure on whatever is trying to contain it. Yep, this includes the pipes in your home. No matter how strong your pipes are or what they’re made of, expanding water can break ‘em.
Prevent costly, messy and destructive water pipe incidents by clearing any blockages and adding insulation around the pipes. Insulation is especially important in unheated areas like your garage and under bathroom and kitchen sinks.
You’re not the only one who seeks warmth in the bitter cold. As temps drop, shivering critters may want to invite themselves over to nest in your walls and snack on your plants. Here’s how the National Pest Management Association wants to help you prevent winter intruders:
Related: How much does pest control cost?
Ice, snow and frost can do a number on your driveway and walkway pavement, especially if there are already holes and cracks to provide a foothold. Water gets inside, freezes, expands — and your concrete starts to look like your phone screen after a fall. Repairs can be pricey, especially if they require complete repaving. Prevent water damage by filling cracks or holes with asphalt as soon as they occur.
Related: How much does asphalt repair cost?
When the snow on your roof doesn't completely melt, ice dams or large icicles can form, leading to serious structural damage. Clear snow off your roof after six inches accumulate to prevent ice dams. Remove snow with a roof rake to avoid climbing a ladder, especially in slippery winter conditions — or enlist a professional’s help so you don’t damage your roof (or yourself).
Related: How much does roof cleaning cost?
Chilly indoor winter conditions? Look to your windows. Warm air escapes; cold air seeps in. Consider using insulation film, which creates a barrier between the interior of your house and your windows. Additionally, use caulk to seal any cracks in window frames, or consider investing in some thermal curtains.
Related: How to weatherproof your home.
Firewood is a quite literal breeding ground for outdoor bugs. A woodpile that is placed too close to your house is an open invitation to creepy-crawlies. Stack your firewood more than 6 feet away from your home's exterior walls. Before you bring a piece of wood inside, shake it and give it a glance to make sure bugs don’t come along for the ride.
During the fall, gutters trap falling debris and collect a lot of foliage. Ideally, you should clean your gutters regularly throughout the winter to remove inevitable buildup that can block your downspouts. At the minimum, clear the gutters before winter, when trapped water can freeze and cause expensive repairs to not only your gutters but also your siding and foundation.
If it’s been over a year since you’ve inspected your chimney, it has seen its fair share of dust, dirt, foliage and even the potential animal nests. Ignoring chimney maintenance can also be a major safety issue. Creosote buildup in the flue can cause a dangerous fire when all you intended was a cozy night at home next to the fireplace. When in doubt, have a professional inspect and clean your chimney to ensure proper functioning and safety.
A clean furnace filter improves air quality and helps eliminate allergens from your home. Protect your family and home from allergens, boost the efficiency of your heating system and clean your filters monthly. Ideally, you should replace them every three to six months — and definitely before the cold weather rolls in.
Related: How much does furnace cleaning cost?
Guess what? Your ceiling fan isn’t just for the summer. It does more than cool your house down. Ever wonder what that switch is for? Flip it when the season changes, and voila! — the blades will rotate clockwise, push warm air down, and help keep your home nice and toasty. Sit back, store your slippers, and enjoy the savings you get from lower heating bills.
The weatherstripping that lines the bottom of your door prevents heat from leaking out of your house. If the weatherstripping is coming loose or jambing when you close or open the door — or if you notice sunlight shining through the crack — it’s time to replace it. When you prevent air from escaping your house, you’ll save money on heating during those frigid months.
You may think that closing the vents in your unused rooms provides more heat to other areas of the house, but that’s a common misconception. Your heating system is probably sized to equally distribute heat in all areas of your home. If the heat distribution isn't balanced, your heating unit may experience additional stress and actually decrease in efficiency. Keep vents open to allow warm air to circulate evenly throughout your house. This will maintain a consistent temperature and keep your heating system happy and healthy.
Bright, sunny days are scarce during the winter. However, when a pleasant, sunlit day arrives make sure your curtains or blinds are open — especially on south-facing windows. This increases the warmth in your home so you don't have to crank up the heat.
Winter storms can bring power outages. When the power goes out, you may think that turning on a portable generator, stove or outdoor grill — and bringing it inside — is a smart way to heat up the house or cook food. Think again.
Some appliances emit toxic gases like carbon monoxide. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that you should not use the following when the power is out:
Tip: If you need to cook during a power outage, the EPA recommends using a vented fireplace or a vented wood-burning stove (if you have one).
Sure, you don’t hear or smell anything weird coming from your water heater, vents or HVAC unit so everything is working correctly, right? Maybe not.
From safety issues to cost-efficiency, it’s important to winter-proof your home, making sure every appliance and system is up to the task — and that you and your family are as comfortable and protected as possible. Problems to these systems may lead to more expensive costs down the line.
Throughout the year, schedule regular maintenance and cleanings. Make a plan for your spring, summer and fall maintenance tasks. That way, when winter rolls back around, your home will be ready for harsh elements, annoying pests and weather-related wear-and-tear.
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