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7 things LIers can do to winterize their home

Ben Jackson of Ben's General Contracting shows us how to blow out the water lines as winter on Long Island can be tough on houses, from roofs to heating systems to pipes. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Laura Goodman doesn’t wait too long to get her home ready for winter — and it usually pays off.

The Searingtown resident recently had companies blow out water from her sprinklers and test the heat. Then she got a surprise when a skylight opening onto a roof littered with leaves and branches leaked into her den.

She called Long Island Roofing in Bellmore. "They came, looked at the roof, removed some of the shingles and repaired it," Goodman said.

Anthony Tyson, of East Hampton, gets it done like clockwork, too. "A sprinkler company comes by every year and drains the system," he said. "We have somebody come by and check the boiler and make sure it’s firing properly."

For Long Island homeowners, these yearly rituals typically start in late fall, long before the first cold snap hits. Winterizing helps residents go through the season with fewer worries of loss or heavy damage.

Here are seven tasks on the checklist.

Get the water out

First, shut off all the water that leads to hoses and outdoor faucets to prevent the cold from bursting pipes. "Make sure the water supply to every hose outlet is shut off from the inside," says Carmine Galletta, president and owner of GallettAir, based in West Babylon. "Open up the faucet to the outside to drain it."

Don’t forget to turn off water to faucets that are exposed to cold air, even if they’re not outdoors, said Jay Best, CEO of Green Team LI, a home energy efficiency company in Holbrook. "Sometimes people have a faucet in a garage," Best said. "You want to treat that like it’s the outside as well."

For about $150, a sprinkler company will blow out your sprinkler system using a high-pressure air pump, Best said. "Make sure you have your sprinklers blown out, so you don’t have any freezes," said Ben Jackson, president of Freeport-based Ben’s General Contracting.

Tune up heating system

Make sure your heating system is working well. "People often neglect to have a regular maintenance until the coldest day of the year," Jackson said. "Regular scheduled maintenance is much more efficient. Sometimes it’s as simple a thing as having your system bled."

You should bleed the lines of a baseboard water system, making sure there’s no air in the line, so it runs efficiently, Galletta said. And have gas or oil boilers checked to make sure they work properly. Best said for $200 and up, you can typically get an oil heating system cleaned and checked.

Galletta’s company offers a $99 tuneup for a boiler or furnace with an additional $50 to service humidifiers, he said.

Furnaces or hot-air systems should have clean filters. "You want to make sure the air filter is cleaned and changed every month," Galletta said.

And hot-air systems often have humidifiers, activated in the fall, which should be clean and functioning. "A lot of people neglect them," Galletta said. "It’s not good for your respiratory system."

If you have a generator, "now is the time to make sure it is running properly," before the middle of winter, Jackson said.

Clean gutters

Gutters clogged with leaves can create big problems in the cold.

"You’ve got to make sure your gutters are cleaned out," said Steve Coppolo, president of Bellmore-based Long Island Roofing. "Clean off any debris on the roof."

And if you clean them out early, you may want to do it a second time, Best said.

Some people clean their gutters themselves while others pay to get them cleaned. It is best to hire a professional, however, since many people are injured while clearing gutters.

If the gutters are broken, it’s a good time to get them repaired. "Ice and snow buildup can cause leaks and ice dams," Jackson said. "Proper drainage is critical and often overlooked."

Keep your roof ready

Ideally, trees and shrubbery should be trimmed long before winter.

"Branches should not grow close to or over a house," Jackson said. "This can be a greater concern in the winter because of ice storms adding extra weight and often breaking branches or having them hang even lower causing damage."

Storms that hit Long Island earlier in the year may have damaged roofs, where small defects could cause bigger problems in the winter. Check the shingles, gutters and leaders, vent pipes, vertical walls, valley areas and ridge capping to ensure they’re all intact, Coppolo said.

"You want to make sure … that everything’s sealed tight," Coppolo said.

Again, it's best to hire a professional for the job.

Fix masonry, bring in furniture

Look outdoors, too. Fix problems with masonry pointing because winter can make them much worse.

"Often a flat surface like a stoop can get ice and snow buildup where the ice melts during the day and seeps into the cracks and freezes again at night causing the cracks to worsen," Jackson said.

Sometimes sidewalks and driveways may need to be replaced or repaved, Jackson said.

As for outdoor furniture, even though it is made to withstand the elements, you might want to bring it in. "Storing patio furniture or having it shrink-wrapped for the winter is a great idea," Jackson said. "Even the winter sun deteriorates the furniture and the wind can throw it around quite a bit."

Improve insulation

Checking and improving insulation is among the best defenses against the cold.

If a pipe goes through a wall to the outside, you may want to seal that hole with foam insulation, Galletta said.

Water can freeze in exposed piping in crawl spaces or cabinets where air can infiltrate the house. Insulate those pipes, possibly with expandable spray-on foam.

"You want to prevent air coming through that could blow across piping, drain lines, water supply lines," Galletta said.

Make sure windows are sealed well and attic insulation is adequate. High-hat insulated boxes can keep the cold air from descending through the attic.

"A lot of times cold air drops in from the attic through the high hats," Galletta said. "You can feel the cold air infiltrating your house."

A door sweep at the bottom of a door can block cold air from coming in. "Do anything you can that will stop the outside air from coming in," Galletta said.

Test smoke detectors

Check smoke detectors periodically, especially before winter.

"Winter comes with many fire risks," Best said. "Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are operating properly."

Most smoke detectors are only good for 10 years and new ones typically are built with batteries that last a decade, Best said. In some cases, it’s not enough to change the batteries but the device, he said.

There are also carbon monoxide detectors, and combined carbon monoxide-smoke detectors that can cost $70, Best said. "If there’s a fire in your house with smoke leaking into your bedroom, you want to know," Best said. "I like the combined. It’s one device instead of two."

Smoke detectors take home protection to another level, Best said. They save lives.

Doing an energy audit

Checking how energy-efficient your home is can be a good idea anytime, says Jay Best.

“Most of our energy bills on Long Island are related to heating costs,” said Best, CEO of Green Team LI, a home energy efficiency company based in Holbrook.

Long Island residents can get an energy audit done free through a program run by PSEG Long Island. Auditors evaluate energy efficiency and recommend fixes, which homeowners are free to disregard. Or they can get the fixes done by the company that did the audit or any company of their choice.

“It will let you know where air is coming in from, where you’re losing heat, gaining heat, depending on the season," Galletta said. “It tells you a lot about the house.”

An audit typically requires 60 to 90 minutes in a home, evaluating insulation, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, while identifying opportunities to improve, Best said.

While an energy audit is not part of winterizing, getting a written description of how to save energy can help save energy and money in the long run, Galletta says.

“That means you’re getting into a whole other realm of what you’re doing,” he said. “If you want to make your house more efficient, do an energy audit.”

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