Cool autumn days bring the certainty of blustery winter weather just around the corner, reminding us to insulate and winterize home structures. Every homeowner at one time or another has undertaken the effort to winterize, but many have not taken the time to really learn how to winterize a house.
Common Steps to Insulate and Winterize
Obvious tasks include putting on storm windows, replacing the broken storm door on the back entrance, and blowing out the automatic sprinkler system.
Other common tasks to prepare the home for winter include:
- Installing adequate home insulation. Common types used are:
1. High density foam insulation board; purchased in 4X8 foot sheets widely available in 1 to 2-inch thicknesses.
2. Fiberglass roll or batt insulation, available with or without paper facing on one side, in 16 or 24-inch widths. Rolls are one long strip; batts are usually 8-foot lengths. Thickness determines R value.
3. Blown insulation is most commonly used to achieve the Department of Energy (DOE) recommended R49 in attics; also used in older homes to avoid drywall or plaster removal from interior walls in order to install roll or batt insulation. Cellulose has widely been used, but loose blow in fiberglass is becoming the norm.
- Install new or replace old weather stripping around doors and windows; install door sweeps on the inside of exterior doors. Make sure thresholds are solid and sealed, replace if necessary.
- Install window insulation and storm door insulation kits consisting of pre-cut plastic sheeting and adhesive strips. Adhesive strips are attached around the interior or exterior perimeters of windows and storm doors; plastic sheeting is stretched and attached to adhesive. When in place the plastic forms an extra barrier against leaks and drafts, making the home more air tight.
- Caulking around exterior window and door casings also helps to eliminate drafts and air leakage into the home.
- Clearing debris and sealing cracks and gaps in and around the foundation and sill plate of the home also helps eliminate air leaks and drafts; as well as keep out rodents and insects. Expanding spray foam insulation may be best for this task. This or other crack sealer treatments helps to weather proof the foundation from water intrusion.
Important Steps Frequently Overlooked
Frequently overlooked tasks to winterize include:
- Checking the roof for potential leakage problems and clearing out rain gutters of accumulated debris. The roof may not leak right now, but broken or damaged shingles combined with accumulations of debris in the valley, or plugged rain gutters, can wreak havoc when snow and ice are added to the mix. Plugged rain gutters can cause ice to back up and further damage the roof, then leak and cause water damage during the spring thaw.
- Having a professional perform an annual HVAC inspection of furnace components, to make sure everything is in good working order when snowflakes start to fly.
- Having a professional fireplace inspection and fireplace chimney inspection before each new season. Woodstoves or fireplaces that get regular winter use can accumulate dangerous creosote deposits in the chimney, which pose a possible fire hazard. Creosote deposits can result in a chimney fire which burns so hot, the structure can also catch fire.
- Mobile homes are especially susceptible to the ravages of Old Man Winter; especially plumbing. Mobile home owners should take special care to inspect plumbing and install water pipe insulation in the crawlspace under the home. Protecting water pipes with foam pipe insulation or fiberglass pipe wrap is a standard necessity. In frigid areas such as the upper Midwest and New England states, the addition of thermostatically controlled heat tape may be necessary to keep pipes flowing. Heat tape should be inspected and tested annually before winter sets in.
- While sewer and drain pipes normally have enough heat rising out of the sewer to keep them open, in severe conditions even a drain pipe can freeze, resulting in backed up drains. Some homeowners have had to set up a salamander-type barn heater in the crawlspace just to thaw unprotected drain pipes.
- Another overlooked effort to winterize plumbing are outside faucets. In regions with frigid winters, freeze-proof faucets should be installed, especially when year-round use is required. Turn off water supply and drain outside faucets that are not freeze proof. One common mistake is to leave a hose hooked up to freeze proof faucets, which are designed to drain remaining water back into the house when turned off. When a hose is left attached, remaining water is not allowed to drain and freezes in the hose and fixture. With the spring thaw comes an unexpected flood in the wall of the house.
By using these guidelines to prepare a house for winter, homeowners can make both a comfortable and energy efficient home; while at the same time help prevent costly winter surprises.
Homeowners lacking the DIY skills to perform these type tasks themselves can seek the services of an insulation contractor or handyman contractor. Professionals trained to protect homes from an artic Maine winter or harsh winter in Montana.
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