We have been blessed with a beautiful autumn. However, the signs of winter are impossible to ignore. Those lovely fall leaves have fallen, even been raked and sacked up. Most likely, we have mowed our lawns for the last time and perhaps added a bit of winterizer fertilizer to it. The garden now offers only a rare bloom, whose days are numbered, to be sure. And we notice that the days are shorter, the sun is lower on the horizon and the temperatures not quite as warm as they were a few short weeks ago.
Let's brace our homes so it will be ready when winter pounds on its doors and rattles at its windows. Let's protect our houses from unwanted and costly air leaks and assure that things like furnaces, fireplaces and the like are working properly.
One of the easiest fixes in preparing the house for winter is to check for air leaks. Common areas that can permit cold air to enter or cause warm air to escape are:
- Baseboards, coves and interior trim.
- Door and window sashes and frames.
- Fireplaces and chimneys.
- Light fixtures and electrical outlets and switches.
- Plumbing and utility access points.
- Sill plates.
- Water and furnace flues.
Determine the air tightness of an area by holding a lit candle or thin tissue next to the suspected culprit. If the flame or smoke stream from the candle or the tissue "blows in the wind," you have an air leak. You can also listen for the sound of the "draft" or feel for a noticeable temperature change around the area.
Once you know where the leaks are, the next step is to fix them. Use caulk, sealant or weather-stripping. Caulks are best for sealing gaps between non-moving parts of a house, such as around window sills, chimneys and intake and exhaust vents. Remember to caulk and seal air leaks at plumbing, ducting and electrical penetrations in exterior walls, floors, ceilings and soffits.
For the new caulk to be most effective, the old caulking should be scraped off first. Clean the surfaces and let them dry. Then, apply fresh caulk. And remember, do not apply caulk if the temperature is below 40 degrees.
Weather-stripping guards against air loss around movable elements of the house, such as sliding glass doors, garage doors and entrance doors. This do-it-yourself job requires accurate measurements to determine the amount of weather-stripping needed. Depending on the type of weather-stripping used, it either may be nailed or taped into place. Although the foam backed tape weather-stripping is the easiest to apply, it is the least durable. It's a good idea to consider the wear and tear on the product before deciding what type to buy.
Depending on your pocketbook, other methods to block unwanted airflow can be used. They are:
- Taping heavy duty sheets of plastic tightly over window frames.
- Installing storm windows over single pane windows.
- Replacing single pane windows with double pane windows.
- Keeping fireplace damper closed when not in use.
Check your home's insulation or have it done by a professional. One survey showed that only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 are considered well insulated. Additional insulation may be needed if the house feels drafty or cold in the winter and warm in the summer. Places where additional insulation may be needed are:
- Exterior walls.
- Crawl spaces.
- Cathedral ceilings.
Getting the home ready for winter is not only about blocking air leaks and beefing up the insulation in your home. It includes things like:
- Unhooking and draining outside hoses.
- Turning off outside water spigots.
- Repairing leaky faucets.
- Inspecting your home's foundation for cracks.
- Cleaning leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts.
- Fixing uneven walkways before the freezing and thawing of winter creates a tripping hazard.
- Cleaning chimneys.
- Covering air conditioners or removing window units.
- Vacuuming out duct work.
- Changing the batteries in your smoke detectors.
- Assuring that your carbon monoxide detector meets the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. standards and is properly functioning.
- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.