May 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Protecting Your Home During the Winter

The yearly end of Daylight Savings Time brings with it the reminder that it is time to prepare your home to survive the onslaughts of the winter months. In addition to what must be done by people who will occupy their homes during the winter there are added procedures and concerns for those who will not be on the premises at this time — owners of vacation homes and snowbirds who leave their primary residences vacant for several months. Preparations involve both indoor and outdoor items.

Owners who will remain in residence and those who will be away should both think in terms of energy efficiency. If you heat via a furnace, do a heating system checkup and cleaning; clean filters each month and replace them when necessary. If possible, replace old, inefficient furnaces with new, Energy Star-certified units. Remove window air conditioning units to prevent cold drafts from entering the home; if you can’t remove the window units then cover the units from the outside and make certain that the vents are closed. Clean fan blades and reverse the direction of your ceiling fans so that they push the heated ceiling air downward into the rooms. Adjust your programmable thermostat (buy one if you don’t have one) to lower the heat at night and when you are away from home. Reduce your hot water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees and, while you’re at it, buy and install an insulating blanket to wrap around the heater; also, insulate your pipes. Put draft snakes under doors that allow cold air into the house and keep out other sources of cold air by installing weather stripping and caulking to seal up gaps. The installation of window insulation kits will keep out cold drafts and will provide extra dead air space so that your home will retain more heat. Add extra insulation between walls and on attic floors and basement ceilings where possible. Wear warm clothing indoors so that you can keep the temperature lower. Check for carbon monoxide leaks and make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order. Is your humidifier working properly? Dry air can make fine wood more prone to cracking. And don’t forget to take advantage of the many federal and state tax credits for doing some of the above; some of these credits expire on December 31, 2016.

Outdoors, turn off water spigots that are outside the house. Disconnect outdoor hoses and drain them. Clear gutters of leaves and other debris: clogged gutters could cause ice dams and water damage. Drain rain barrels to prevent water from freezing, expanding and cracking the barrels. Drain other outdoor repositories of water such as fountains and pools. Make sure that trees around the house are trimmed so that limbs will not fall on the house during a storm. Ask your local power company to trim branches near electrical wires as well, but don’t do this yourself because working around power lines is dangerous. Remove leaves from the sides of your home. Check the roof for missing and damaged shingles. Store your outdoor furniture indoors to prevent its being blown around by the wind. Winterize your outdoor sprinkler system by turning off the water supply and by using a compressor to blow air through the sprinkler lines to prevent the lines from bursting due to frozen water inside them.

Fireplaces and chimneys need special attention in order to prevent chimney fires and animal incursions. Ask a professional chimney sweep to inspect your chimney for creosote buildup, animal nests, etc. Test the chimney draft to make certain that the chimney draws up fire and smoke: open the damper, burn paper, and observe that smoke rises up the chimney unobstructed. If you are not using the fireplace then you may want to put a cap atop the chimney; if you are using the fireplace then you may want to screen the top in order to keep out squirrels and birds. Check the flashing around the chimney and prevent leaks by performing necessary repairs.

Snow in our area is inevitable, so check your snow blower to make sure that it is in working order and know that you have enough fuel before the snow falls. Do you have shovels, ice melt, boots, warm jackets and gloves? To prevent falls when snow and ice are on the ground, are your walkways and driveways in good repair?

Owners of vacation homes and primary homes that will remain vacant have additional tasks to perform. Among the most important of these relates to water. Turn it off and drain the pipes, toilets, water heater and expansion tank so that the water within does not freeze and burst the pipes. Some people do not do this because they leave the furnace on and set the thermostat to 55 degrees. But what happens if there is a power failure while you are away and the furnace fails to heat the home; what happens if the furnace runs out of fuel? The safest way to proceed is to drain the water and then to use an air compressor to blow excess water from the pipes. Then, pour RV-type antifreeze into drain pipes, toilets and sinks. Close the sink and tub drains. Cover the toilet bowl with Saran Wrap to prevent sewer gases from entering the house.

If you do leave the electricity on then unplug appliances to prevent a fire from starting if something goes awry with the wiring — if, for example, an animal gnaws the wire.

Turn off the gas line!

Clean out the refrigerator and freezer, turn them off, and prop the doors open to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. To prevent odors, put a bag of activated charcoal inside the refrigerator. Clean out trashcans. Remove all items that could become fire hazards. Remove from the pantry all food items that could freeze and burst. Store bedding and towels in rodent-proof containers. Vacuum carpets to remove crumbs that could attract rodents. Close flues and dampers in the fireplace; install a chimney cap or screening to prevent birds and rodents from entering the house.

Lock all entry points to the house. If you have a shed, put dark material inside any windows so that the shed contents are invisible from the outside.

For security, if you keep the electricity on then put some lights on a timer to make it appear that the house is inhabited. Don’t leave valuables on the premises. Go to the post office and stop mail delivery. Install burglar, fire and carbon monoxide detectors and connect them to the police and fire stations. If you have a friendly neighbor, ask that person to periodically check the house and grounds. Make sure that your insurance is up to date — and note that in New York State you may not be able to get certain types of home insurance if your home is unheated.

By Vivian J. Oleen, Associate Broker, Sopher Realty

 

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