Don't let the winter catch you unprepared. Here are a few tips that you can do to get your home winter ready.
Have the Furnace Inspected
Call an HVAC professional to check the fan belt that runs the blower, vacuum out dust and debris, and oil the bearings if necessary. Buy enough filters to see you through the winter months and change them monthly--when filters become clogged with dust, the furnace doesn't operate efficiently and your energy bill goes up. Set the thermostat at 68 to save on energy costs, and consider replacing a manually controlled thermostat with a programmable one. This allows you to set the temperature at a comfortable level when you're in the house and cut it back to a cooler level when you're at work. Used properly, programmable thermostats can save up to $180 a year on heating and cooling costs.
Wash the Windows
Yes, it's a tedious job, but washing the windows inside and out twice a year--spring and fall--rewards you with sparkling views, unobstructed light, and the opportunity to check for cracks and damaged caulking. Use a commercial window cleaner or make your own by mixing ¼ cup of white vinegar with 1 gallon of water. Newspaper makes the best "cleaning rag" because it's absorbent and won't leave lint, but wear gloves to protect your hands from the newsprint.
Make your windows air tight
According to experts, 10 percent of the air that leaks out of a house exits through the windows. Caulk around window frames and apply weatherstripping between the sash and window frame to eliminate air leakage. Tension seal and magnetic types of weatherstripping are durable and effective for double-hung windows. For casement and sliding windows, apply self-adhesive V-strip weatherstripping to the side of a clean, dry sash or window jamb. Measure the length you need, cut the V-strip to fit, then peel off the paper backing while pressing the strip in place.
Install Storm Windows
Install storm windows to reduce air leakage year-round. You can find storm windows with vinyl, wood, or aluminum frames and glass or plastic panes. Glass is heavier but longer lasting and clearer than plastic, which scratches easily and yellows over time. Interior storm windows are generally mounted inside the window jambs or flush with the molding. They're easy to install but must be removed when you want to open the windows to let in fresh air. An exterior double-track or triple-track storm window is permanently installed on the outside of the window, and the lower half of the window moves in a separate track from the screen so you can lower or raise it to control air flow.
Put the Ceiling Fan in Reverse
Check your ceiling fan for a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of blade movement to turn clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. Warm air rises, and the clockwise rotation of the blades forces the warm air down to where people benefit from it.
Clean the Eves troughs
Whether your eves troughs have become roof-line planters like this one or have simply accumulated a season's worth of fallen leaves, get them cleaned out before winter rains and snows arrive. After scooping out leaves and debris, flush the gutters and downspouts with a strong stream of water from a hose. Make sure the eves troughs fit snugly against the house and repair any cracks or damage. Many companies offer leaf guards that claim to prevent leaves from collecting in the eves troughs, but most don't keep out dirt, debris, and seeds, so you'll still have to flush them out.
Check Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Experts recommend replacing the batteries in smoke alarms twice a year, and if your smoke alarm is between 5 and 10 years old, replace it with a new one. There should be at least one smoke alarm on every level of your house and one in or near each bedroom. Safety experts recommend similar placement for carbon monoxide detectors--high on the wall, one on every level of the home, and near bedrooms. Where NOT to put them: within 15 feet of gas appliances furnace, or fireplace because these give off small amounts of carbon monoxide when they're first turned on and would trigger false alarms.
Protect Pipes from Freezing
To minimize the possibility of water freezing in your plumbing pipes causing them to burst, wrap each pipe in a blanket of foam insulation. Check hardware stores for these foam tubes, which have a slit on one side. Just cut the tube to the length you need, pull the slit open, and push the tube onto the pipe. If the slit doesn't have self-adhesive edges, use duct tape to secure it.