To some people, winterizing means buying a thermal-lined jacket and insulated socks. Excuse the interruption, but we're talking about preparing your house for the next Nor'easter.
Here are 10 ways (and a bonus) to keep your home warmer, more energy-efficient and drier througout the coming winter. Our tour guide today is Sally Zimmerman, manager of Historic Preservation Services at Historic New England, a Boston organization that collects and preserves historic buildings in New England. (Among its holdings are Roseland Cottage, a national historic landmark, in Woodstock.)
Ice Dams:The Winter Scourge
Many Connecticut homeowners had never experienced an ice dam before the monster winter of 2011.
Still don't know how one forms? Blame it on inadequate attic insulation that allows heat from the house to warm the roof's surface. Snow that melts on the warmed surface freezes at the colder eaves, eventually forming a dam. After that, any water that melts backs up at the dam, and runs beneath the shingles and into the house.
"The ice dam is a problem that is so connected to how much insulation and how much ventilation and how much air leaks from the house," says Zimmerman. "Unless you're going to comprehensively approach insulation and air-sealing it's really hard to control them."
Climbing a ladder and pounding the ice dame with a hammer or pick isn't good for the roof and potentially dangerous for you. That leaves two inexpensive options.
After the dam forms: Place a fan in the attic, directing the cold air toward the incoming water. If you're lucky, the water will freeze and stop the leak.
Before the dam: Prepare for winter by cleaning the gutters after the last leaf falls each autumn. Buy a roof rake and use it after every snow storm, clearing the gutters and a foot or two beyond it — where ice dams would ordinarily form.
"We use a roof rake religiously," says Zimmerman. "If you can access the roof and clear off a band of snow, it will help keep the ice damming at bay."
Turn off the water supply inside sound the house, then drain the outdoor faucets down to the last drop. Leave the faucet open a bit. For extra protection, if needed, apply a polystyrene outdoor faucet cover, about $4 at your local hardware store.
Here's the ultimate disaster if a storm knocks out power for a week or 10 days in January the way it did last October: Basement pipes freeze, then burst. (Fill in the mental picture.)
Preventive: Insulate pipes, particularly those along an outside wall, under a sink or in unheated areas like a crawlspace. In the deepest chills, don't turn down the thermostat quite so low at bedtime. Let a faucet drip warm water overnight (use a faucet on an outside wall) and open cabinet doors in bathrooms and kitchen to allow heat to reach uninsulated pipes.
A freeze alarm, about $150, uses a heat sensor on the pipes and a small control box that can call you when the temperature at the pipes dips below the set range.
After the basement pipe freezes: Turn off the main water shutoff valve. Use a hair dryer or portable heater, never a torch, to thaw the pipe. Turn the water back on and check for leaks.
If a pipe bursts: Turn off the main water shutoff valve. Make sure everyone in the house knows where to find the valve.
Adjust Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans keep you cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter when used properly.
"You want to switch direction of the blades," says Zimmerman, "so that the heat that's rising up to the top is pushed to the area of the room that you're actually living in, sitting in, watching TV."
Here's all you need to know: A ceiling fan cools when its blades move counterclockwise and warms when they move clockwise.
Lock Your Windows
Locking windows actually keeps the house warmer by creating a tighter seal.
"Many people think the sash lock is there to prevent people from breaking in," says Zimmerman, "but it's indeed a functional part of the window. It needs to be employed to do its job. That's valuable."
Search for drafts around windows on a cold, windy day by running a moistened fingertip around the frame or dangling a tissue over suspicious areas. Then apply caulk over the trouble spots.
A winter fire warms the spirit, but always remember to close the flue when the fireplace is not in use. (Mental note: Also remember to open it when starting a fire.)
Replace Furnace Filter
A new filter helps a heating system run more efficiently, saving energy and money.
Don't forget to have the furnace cleaned and inspected each year, too.
Know anyone still not using a programmable thermostat? Make it a holiday gift. A programmable costs about $65 and is relatively easy to install. (Techies might prefer the $230 Nest, controllable by smartphone or computer.) A programmable thermostat will pay for itself, maybe two times over, in the first winter by lowering the temperature automatically at night and when the residents are away.
"There's no reason why everyone shouldn't have a programmable thermostat," says Zimmerman.
For driveways and sidewalks, the two standard de-icers are rock salt and urea. Rock salt, which includes various types of chloride (calcium, magnesium, potassium or sodium), melts ice but also kills plants and grass.
Urea, often used as a fertilizer, might be a good (and expensive) choice in residential neighborhoods but if runoff takes it into a nearby stream or lake it could feed algae growth.
Sand also works, though less effectively.
Zimmerman suggests an alternative that requires some work.
"Keeping up with the snow storm — I wish I could get my husband to do this — and not waiting till the storm is over before you go out to clear walks," she says. "Just go out periodically to keep up with it and not get a huge buildup of snow and ice on the walkway."
Remove WindowAir Conditioners
C'mon, lazy bones, it's winter. The window air conditioner is a pain to remove, but think of all the cold air leaking in throughout the winter.