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A checklist to get your home ready for the winter

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
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. AP

Winter is coming, but there’s still plenty of time to get your home prepared for whatever that unforgiving season has in store for us.

Mike McGrory, Lamacchia Realty’s vice president of property acquisitions, development, and property management, said fall is the perfect time to identify and address problems on the exterior of your home and to get your heating system ready. He recommends addressing the following before the snow flies:

Exterior

  • Trim shrubs back 2 to 3 feet from the house.
  • Trim tree limbs that overhang or are close to the house.
  • Have the rain gutters cleaned.
  • Built-in and window air conditioners are a big source of heat loss. Window units should be removed and stored. Built-in units should be fitted with an insulated cover.
  • Autumn is when rodents often enter homes to nest and ride out the cold weather. Walk around the exterior looking for ways they can enter your house, and repair or seal them.
  • Make sure your storm windows are lowered and not broken. Also, make sure the windows aren’t just closed, they are locked.
  • “Walk around the exterior and look for any safety concerns,” McGrory said. “If that loose railing on the back porch has gotten looser, you’re better off getting it fixed now, rather than when the weather gets bad.”
  • Make sure you have sand for icy patches on your stairs, walks, and driveway. Salt damages masonry and other paved surfaces and should not be used to melt ice.
  • Shut off the sill cocks (garden hose spigots) from the inside, and drain the water out of the lines to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
  • Cover or store patio furniture or anything that might get damaged by snow and ice coming off the roof.
  • If your heating system vents outside through an exterior wall instead of the chimney, make sure the outside portion doesn’t get blocked by snow during storms or after plowing. They must be kept clear at all times for safety.

Plumbing and heating

  • A good time to have the heating system serviced is before the cold weather arrives. Many people with oil-fired heating systems do this anyway, but it is just as important with a gas-fired unit. All mechanical and combustion equipment runs better when it is regularly cleaned and serviced.
  • Bleed the air out of your forced-hot water radiators/baseboard units. They’ll work better and run quieter.
  • If you have a forced-warm air heating system, replace the air filter before the season begins and every six weeks or so after that. Many people with allergies find that having the ductwork and air handler professionally cleaned provides them with a lot of relief in the winter when they spend more time indoors.
  • Take the temperature of the hot water. If it is hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, you are wasting energy, and 140 degrees or higher could scald someone, so turn it down. Also, insulating your water heater will lower your operating costs and improve its longevity. Just make sure the insulation does not interfere with the burner or pressure-temperature relief valve.
  • Clean out the lint buildup in your dryer vent. If the vent is clogged, the dryer loses efficiency, raising your operating costs and putting your home at risk of a fire.
  • Do you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors where you need them? Are they working? Replacing the batteries when Daylight Saving Time ends (Sunday, Nov. 7) is a great idea.
  • Flow restrictors and aerators on plumbing fixtures conserve energy and water and will more than pay for themselves over the life of the fixture. Installing these devices is within the capabilities of most homeowners and is a nice indoor project for when the weather gets cold.

Chimneys

Jackie Wilson, from Best Chimney Services, said many homeowners ignore their chimneys altogether, and that’s dangerous. Chimneys take the dangerous products of combustion from the fireplace, wood stove, heating system, and water heater and vent them safely outside. If there’s a problem with a chimney, it could potentially damage the building and put the occupants’ lives at risk.

“Every chimney flue should be inspected annually,” she said. “Wood stove and fireplace flues should be swept after every cord of wood burned. If a flue is venting an oil-fired heating system, it should be swept every three to five years. Gas doesn’t necessarily need to be swept because it produces a lot of condensation, but it still needs to be inspected.”

Wilson said many companies offer two types of inspections: A visual inspection and a more detailed camera inspection used during real estate transactions and to diagnose more complicated issues.