Preparing for the First Freeze: Practical Tips to Do at Home

Fall is officially here. With the temperature dropping, this is the perfect time to prepare your home for winter. Even if you live in an area that barely gets snow, it’s important to weatherize your home. The winter cold can cause all sorts of damage to your house, and your energy bills are likely to double if you’re not prepared.

Get your winterizing done before the temperature drops any lower. It’s not fun to do these chores when it’s already freezing outside. This checklist will help you winterize your house to make sure you’ve got everything covered before the cold sets in.

Insulation

Proper insulation is an essential element of weatherization that can improve your home’s comfort and energy efficiency. Serious insulation upgrades are reserved for the warmer months since your house needs to be carefully evaluated for heat resistance first. Some insulation contractors offer energy evaluations to determine areas in your home that aren’t adequately insulated.

In the meantime, these are some things you can do to make sure that your insulation is ready for winter:

Man putting insulation in the ceiling

Check Your Attic Insulation

The attic is one of the biggest sources of energy loss in homes due to the phenomenon called the “stack effect.” Warm air tends to rise, and it can leak through your roof if your attic isn’t insulated well. The stack effect forces your heating system to work twice as hard to keep your house at your preferred indoor temperature.

Make sure your attic is solidly insulated, leaving no room for air leaks. Loose-fill insulation is the best insulation for attics. The material conforms to any space and shape without disturbing the finishes of the walls and ceilings.

Insulate Your Water Heater

The Department of Energy (DOE) recommends insulating older water heaters with insulating blankets. It can cut your standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent, saving you 7 to 16 percent on your annual water heating costs.

For electric water heaters, you can also put an insulation board underneath the tank. It helps prevent heat loss into the floor, saving you four to nine percent of water heating energy.

Most new hot water tanks are already insulated, so you can skip this step if you’ve recently upgraded your heater.

Seal Unused Fireplaces

Wood-burning fireplaces and chimneys can be major sources of air leaks and drafts during the winter. Even if the damper is closed, the flue can still let cold air into the house. So, it’s better to seal it instead to block the air leaks.

You can purchase a chimney balloon or chimney pillow to seal your fireplace. Another option is to cut out a piece of insulating foam board seal and place it just under the damper. To ensure that the board cut-out is snug, you first want to measure each side of the opening and draw the cardboard pattern.

Remember to remove the seal before using the fireplace to prevent accidents.

Heating System

Other than your insulation, your heating system is another critical element in winterizing your home. Check your furnace and other heating appliances no later than the end of October to give you ample time to inspect and address any problems. Give your heating system a test run to make sure everything’s operating as it should.

  • Schedule seasonal maintenance Have your heating system checked and serviced by a heating contractor to keep it in tip-top shape all year. They’ll let you know if any component needs a replacement or repairs. This is also an excellent time to inspect your air ducts and ensure that they’re not clogged.
  • Replace the air filter It’s good practice changing your air filter every season, especially if you’re using the 1- to 2-inch kind. A new, clean filter will ensure the flow of quality indoor air inside your house. Each furnace has different requirements for filters, so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Test your furnace and thermostat Test the thermostat by turning it to heat mode and setting it to 80 degrees. The furnace should turn on within a few minutes and you should feel warm air beginning to blow. If the furnace takes too long to run or there’s any other problem, you can try to diagnose it yourself. You may also call a qualified service technician to be sure.
  • Check for carbon monoxide leaks Most furnaces are gas-burning and produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide leaks are typically a result of leakages in the furnace’s exhaust system or other fuel-burning appliances. Carbon monoxide is dangerous when inhaled, causing damage to vital organs like the heart and lungs. Luckily, you can easily detect leaks using a battery-operated alarm or detector badge.

Water Pipes

Plumbing is susceptible to freezing or bursting because metal pipes are good thermal conductors. Frozen pipes interfere with the water flow, making it difficult to do everyday tasks. In addition, pipes that burst due to freezing can lead to expensive repairs. Prevent these problems by insulating your plumbing.

  • Insulate exposed pipes Inspect your home for any exposed water or drainpipes, especially those in uninsulated places. Don’t forget to check your attic, crawlspace, basement, and outside walls. Wrap the exposed pipes with electrical heating tape followed by foam insulating sleeves.
  • Insulate exterior faucets Shut off the water supply for your exterior faucets, then drain the water from them. Otherwise, the water that remains inside the pipes can freeze and burst. Disconnect your garden hoses from the taps and drain them as well before storing them properly. You may also put an insulated cover on the faucet for added frost protection.

If you’re going away for the winter, remember to drain your home’s plumbing system and shut off the water supply. Otherwise, a leak could happen while you’re away. You wouldn’t be able to address it immediately, and the damage can be disastrous.

Water pipes

Roof and Gutters

The roof and gutter system are also essential areas when winterizing your house. Any neglected damage on the roof can cause water or air leaks. Clogged gutters can increase the chances of forming ice dams, which are a damaging winter roofing problem.

  • Inspect the roof for damaged or missing shingles and have them replaced.
  • Check the chimney flashing for damage since it’s a common source of leaks. If the caulking has seen better days, that means it’s time to renew the flashing seals.
  • Clean out your gutters and downspouts. Wet leaves and debris can increase the chances of ice dams. They also add a lot of weight to the gutters, which increases the risk of damage.
  • Consider replacing your gutters if they’re old. Go for seamless gutters. These are less likely to leak than traditional sectional gutters.

If you have a flat roof surfaced with asphalt and pebbles, blow off all the leaves and debris that can hold moisture. However, don’t sweep away the pebbles. They shield the asphalt from direct sunlight.

Doors and Windows

The caulking around doors and windows wears out over time. It creates gaps and holes that let drafts into the house, decreasing your heating system’s efficiency. A simple remedy is weatherstripping, which seals the gaps around doors and windows. The DOE says that sealing air leaks can save you at least 20 percent on heating and cooling expenses.

  • Inspect the outside molding on doors and windows for missing or damaged caulking. Use exterior-grade caulk to seal any gaps you find.
  • Check the weatherstripping around the doors, especially on the bottom. Replace if necessary.
  • Do the incense stick method to check for air leaks. On a windy day, hover a lighted incense stick near the sides of your closed windows and doors. If the smoke trail moves, it means you have an air leak. Use rope caulking to reseal the gaps.
  • Inspect the locking mechanisms on your windows. Make sure they move smoothly. Otherwise, they may be difficult to operate once the cold sets in.
  • Clean the window tracks to ensure that the windows slide smoothly.
  • Re-glaze older windows with cracked or missing glazing putty.

Landscape, Garden, and Outdoor Amenities

Your yard also needs to be prepped for winter, especially if you’re maintaining a flower bed or vegetable garden. Follow these standard lawn winterizing procedures to make sure your yard is ready to grow again come spring.

  • Harvest your final batch of fruits and vegetables. Remove all old plant matter to prevent plant diseases in the next growing season.
  • Plant a cover crop for large garden beds to protect the topsoil from the cold temperature. If you have small beds, applying mulch would be enough.
  • Stop watering your trees and shrubs in the early fall to winterize them. It causes them to prepare for fall and stops the growth of new leaves that won’t be hardy enough to survive winter. Once the leaves dropped and before the ground freezes, water your trees and shrubs deeply to give them one last soak before the temperature drops.
  • Winterize your sprinkler system by shutting off the water and draining the pipes. You can do this yourself or have a lawn service handle it.
  • Reseal your wooden deck to make it more resistant to winter damage.
  • Drain the gas from your lawn mower before storing it in a safe, dry area.
  • Cover or store your patio furniture.

This long list of chores may seem like too much work, but they’re worth doing if it means protecting your house from winter damage. Take the time to winterize your home to ensure that everything is in working order when spring comes again.

Home Insulation for Winter

A+ Insulation is a trusted insulation expert in Kansas City. We use premium tools and materials when examining your home’s insulating capacity to develop the best solutions to make it more energy-efficient. We offer a range of insulation solutions for your entire house to protect every room from heat and energy loss.

Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation home energy assessment.