Preparing your Home for the Winter Season

With winter here, and the cold weather, ice, and snow just around the corner, many people haven’t even began to prepare their home for the winter months!!  When winter is approaching, people often lost focus on preparations around the home, and tend to focus on a few “select” thing such as new coats, boots, and making sure their cars are ready to endure the harshest season of the year.

Earlier this week, I posted a blog about Preparing your Car and Truck for Winter Weather.  Hopefully, you took at least part of that advice to make sure your car and family are safe, wherever your travels may take you this winter.

Today, I’m going to focus on two area.  The first is simply preparing your “house” for the winter cold.  This will include tips to make sure your water doesn’t freeze, tips to keep your heating system happy, and more.  The second part of the blog will be more about the things that you need to do to be ready, and what you need to have on-hand for the winter months.

General Winter Preparations for your House:

One of the most important winter preps you can do is PROTECT YOUR WATER PIPES!!  Many of the newer, properly built homes have many precautions built-in that will prevent plumbing from freezing in most cases.  Some things include frost-free outdoor faucets, under-slab plumbing, heated garages / utility closets, and a three foot deep water main into the home.  But, most of you should read on anyway!

Protect your Water Pipes:

  • Disconnect and Store your Hoses - If you leave a hose connected, especially if it’s turned on with a closed spray nozzle attached, water will be present in the spigot and will freeze and cause the pipe inside the wall to burst.  If you have frost-free faucets, disconnect your hoses and store them in the garage.  If you have the old style faucets, precautions must be taken to keep them warm, or turn the water off that feeds them from inside or under the home.
  • Keep your Crawl Space Pipes Warm – If you have pipes under the house, keep them warm!  This is the most common place for plumbing to freeze.  Most importantly, make sure there are no open crawl space vents or doors.  This will keep the cold air out.  Second, on the coldest nights, you should place a heater in the crawl space to keep the temperature above freezing.
  • Leave your Water Running – On the coldest nights, especially when the temps drop to sub-zero, anything can go wrong!  One of the oldest tricks in the book is to leave a couple of faucets running slowly.  It’s best to run both the hot and cold water, but only slightly.  This will keep water flowing through the pipes.  Flowing water doesn’t freeze as easily, and the “new” water flowing into your house from the water main is above freezing temperatures as well.
  • Remember to Shut your Garage Door! - If you have any plumbing in the garage or running through the garage, or if your utility closet is in the garage, accidentally leaving the garage door open overnight can be disastrous.  Pipes, valves, and fittings are more than likely going to freeze.
  • Keep your Thermostat Up - If it’s 30 below zero outside overnight, don’t be afraid to turn your thermostat above 70 degrees!  This will help keep the plumbing inside your walls warm.  Open up cabinets near plumbing — such as under kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • Heated Pipe Tape / Cable - If you’re in a mobile home with skirting around it, a heater in the crawlspace doesn’t always work on the coldest nights.  You can combine a heater with pipe insulation or pipe heating cable to keep your pipes nice and warm.
  • If you Lose Heat - Do your best to keep your pipes warm by blocking off bedrooms, runs propane or wood fireplaces, open cabinets under sinks, and leave some water running a little bit.  Plumbing repairs can be costly.
  • Protecting Plumbing in a House for Sale - If you have a house for sale and need to protect the plumbing from the cold, leaving the heat turned on to 55 degrees will usually suffice.  If that isn’t an option, or you don’t have power at the home, you can have a professional winterize the house by putting anti-freeze in the water system.

After you have taken care of prepping your plumbing system for the winter, the next step is to make sure your heating system is ready to be used heavily through the winter months.

Preparing your Heating System:

  • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms – Regardless of the type of heat you use, always replace batteries and test all of your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.  Safety is critical!!
  • Heat Pumps & Furnaces – Making sure your filters are changed is the primary things you can do yourself.  Next on the list is to put fresh batteries in your thermostats if they are the battery operated type.  Heat pumps and furnaces require other maintenance, cleaning, etc, but that is best left to a professional.  The best time of the year to do an inspection and service is late fall.
  • Unblock & Open Registers – If you have any type of forced air system, make sure you don’t have anything blocking the registers.  Also check the damper in each register to make sure it’s open to allow the proper amount of heated air into each room.
  • Wood Stoves & Fireplaces – If you have a fireplace or a wood stove, you’ll want to clean out the chimney flue.  If you’re not comfortable getting on the roof to do this, call a professional!!  Don’t overlook this, many people have lost their homes, lives, and family due to chimney flue fires!!
  • Check your Fuel – Nothing is more frustrating than waking up to a foot of new snow on the ground and a cold house, only to realize that overnight you ran out of heating oil, propane, or wood and nobody can get there to deliver any for two or three days.

General Winter Preparations for your Homestead & You:

  • Generator - If you have a generator, make sure it has fresh fuel, a fresh oil change, and make sure the fluid levels are all correct.  If it has coolant, make sure it’s good to the lowest temps expected in your area.
  • Snow Blower - Most of us in the south don’t have a snow blower, but if you do, you need to prep it for winter.  Make sure you change the oil and grease any grease zerks.  If your auger is chain driven, inspect the chain for cracks and proper tension, and give it a thin coat of grease to lubricate and protect it.  If your auger is belt driven, inspect your belt for any excessive cracks, wear, or damage.  With the auger engaged (and motor off), check and adjust the tension of the drive belt.
  • Tractor -For those of you with a tractor, make sure you do proper fluid, belt, and coolant maintenance, and grease all zerks as well.

Emergency Preparations:

  • First Aid Kit Always have a basic first aid kit.  If it’s in the middle of an Iowa blizzard, you’re not getting to the Emergency Room any time soon!  Make sure you have at least a few weeks worth of any prescription medications.
  • Salt & Sand – This can be used for melting ice, and traction on ice.
  • Snow Shovel – Have you ever tried shoveling snow with a digging shovel?  Personally, I found it to be exhausting and difficult!
  • Emergency Heat Source – Always have some type of backup heat source.  Even something as simple as a space heater or an electric blanket.  (Ideally, have a small generator to run those if the power goes out!)  Some other common sources of alternate heat are a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater.
  • AM / FM / Weather Radio with Batteries – If you lose power, you’ll appreciate knowing what’s going on, and whether or not any more severe weather or blizzards are heading your way.

Food & Water:

  • Drinking Water – During the ice storm of 2009, there were many homes that lost water due to extended power losses at treatment facilities, pump stations, and personal wells.  It is critical to have some water stored for emergency use.  You can go a week or two without bathing — if you need to.  The simple fact remains that you must drink water.  There’s also somewhat of a psychological factor going on if you don’t brush your teeth in a week, but that’s another story.  lol
  • Alternative Water Source – For many, this may be considered overkill.  If you’re on a well, however, it may not be.  The Ice Storm left some Arkansans without power for over a month.  In our case, we have a Berkey water filtration system that can filter thousands of gallons of river, lake, or pond water into safe drinking water. In our case, we are only a couple hundred yards from a major lake.
  • Non-Perishable Foods – FEMA recommends that you store two weeks worth of non-perishable food in case of an emergency such as an earthquake or hurricane.  Again, using our ice storm as an example, two weeks isn’t enough for many cases.  The LDS Church recommends storing a year worth of food.  To many, that seems excessive.  So, let’s go for at least 30 days here.  That’s a pretty safe number for the vast majority of disasters.  Remember to keep in mind that you may not have an easy way to cook the foods you have!
  • Non-Perishable Baby Food – If you have a baby, or are expecting one soon, make sure you don’t forget to keep several weeks of baby food on-hand!  With any non-perishable stored food, it’s best to use a rotation system so you use the food on a “First In, First Out” system.
  • Don’t Forget the Pets! – Keep a month supply or more for your Cat, Dog, Rabbits, etc.
  • Consumables – People often store up enough food for a few weeks, but forget the other consumables!  Can you imaging being stuck at home with no diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, cat litter, or kitchen cleaner??

Look forward to the winter months, and find comfort in knowing that when a blizzard is moving in, you will be watching your neighbors frantically running to the store to stock up on food, bottled water, and blankets, hoping they have everything they need to get through the worst of the storm!

Please leave your comments!!  Thank for reading!


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