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How to prepare your house for winter weather

Steps can be taken to prevent leaks from

Steps can be taken to prevent leaks from frozen pipes. Credit: ISTOCK / Paul E Tessier

Mother Nature and her friend El Niño treated you to a warm November and December. Welcome to 2016 and the Polar Express! This recent blast of Arctic air is enough to bring you back to reality with what winter can be all about.

You need to protect your home and your possessions, you want to stay warm and you want to save as much money as possible on fuel bills. Those are all noble goals, and with my help you can achieve most or all of them.

If you procrastinated and didn’t do all the things you should have done in warmer weather, then it’s going to be a little harder to accomplish everything. Some products are temperature-sensitive and you just can’t work with them in bitter cold weather.

Degree of Difficulty: Two Hammers out of Five

Step 1: Let’s discuss protecting your home’s exterior. If you think that falling snow or ice from your roof, a tree, a neighbor’s house, etc., might damage your home, now’s the time to take action. Safely cut any tree branches that could crash against your home or break windows during a wicked winter storm, allowing snow, ice and cold to get indoors. (Have sheets of plastic on hand and strong duct tape to cover a broken window or door, in case a branch does do damage.)

Step 2: Prevent plumbing lines from freezing and bursting by keeping cabinet doors open. This allows warmer room air to temper the cold. If you feel drafts against the pipes, plug the cracks with caulk, rags or newspaper.

In bitter weather, allow the water to flow to minimize the chances of pipes freezing. I know the municipal waterworks people don’t want you to drain their system, so just allow a stream 1⁄4-inch wide to flow from a faucet that might be on an exterior wall. Do this only with faucets that are prone to freezing.

Step 3: Map where water lines go up walls and across ceilings. Now is the time to move valuable items from under where a pipe might burst. One-of-a-kind photos, books and other keepers need to be moved to a safe zone in your house.

Step 4: Locate your main water shut-off valve and be sure everyone in the house knows how it works. Don’t hope it works. Try it. But do this on the day when you know you can bring in a plumber if the valve breaks or will not reopen. If you have to replace the main valve, always put in a modern ball valve that rarely fails. If a pipe bursts, you want to be able to shut off the water immediately.

Step 5: Go hunting for cold drafts. Use reusable rope caulking to close off the gaps between window sashes and the frame. It’s a time-tested material and it really does a great job.

Step 6: I know this sounds crazy, but wear long underwear inside your home and wear a knit hat. You’ll be amazed at how warm you are and how this allows you to turn down the thermostat in your home. All that’s important is that you and other family members are warm. You can be very, very warm even when your house temperature is 60 degrees.

Step 7: If you can afford a programmable thermostat, install one. These are fantastic money-saving devices if you just take a few moments to set the temperature limits and times of day when the furnace should be working.

Step 8: Consider small point-of-use radiant heaters to keep you warm if you don’t like wearing more clothes. But be careful if these burn fuel. You don’t want to create a house fire.

Bottom line: When Mother Nature catches you with your flip-flops on, stop and just think about what’s most important. If you just want to stay warm, then do what outdoor construction workers do. Put on layers of clothes indoors. Wear wool gloves indoors that allow your fingers to be exposed. I do. That allows me to type columns like this and use my cellphone. Remember to always do the math on large energy purchases. Think about the payback period. Don’t rush into getting more attic insulation now thinking you’ll be vastly more comfortable and you’ll save money. It can take years to break even on energy improvements.

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