Mother Nature seems to like getting dramatic these days, unleashing early blizzards, windstorms, hail, torrential rain, sleet and arctic blasts all across the country, now quite often in regions that are not used to such intense weather. Last fall, the northeast experienced a tremendously damaging early blizzard that hit when the leaves were still on the trees, snapping limbs and cutting out power for days. And the cold weather boosted home heating bills to the point of pain.
So let's take last fall and winter as a warning that Mother Nature could whip up some dangerous and damaging weather again this year. But this time you'll be well prepared with preventive steps that can save you from having to deal with home damage and sky-high energy bills during the dead of winter.
Take these steps to weatherize your home now:
--Clean your gutters. For safety, hire a professional gutter-cleaning service that also can inspect your gutters for needed repair. A clogged gutter could lead to a flooded basement when the snow melts, costing you thousands in cleanup and perhaps carpet replacement.
--Turn off outdoor water faucets. It's not enough just to turn them off; shut off the water supply to them, if possible, and cover them with an insulated outdoor faucet "sock" to keep the connected pipes from freezing, breaking and leading to leaks or floods later.
--Insulate water pipes that may be close to freezing temperatures. A plumber can help you assess the pipes under your sink, in your bathrooms, in the basement and elsewhere. If there is not adequate wall insulation, say, between an exterior wall and a bathroom wall, the water pipes beneath your vanity could freeze, expand, burst and cause very expensive flooding.
--Install carbon monoxide detectors or replace all the batteries in your existing ones. It's wise to have these lifesaving detectors working optimally year-round, and it is especially important during storm power outages and floods that may create a CO2 situation in your home. Gas log fireplaces and portable heaters can give off carbon monoxide and cause tragedies when high-quality detectors are not used in a home. Also install top-quality fire detectors. Call your local fire department to schedule a free fire safety home inspection, in which their fire safety expert will assess your home and suggest products and placement for detectors.
--Weatherize your windows. New energy-efficient windows are often made of two layers of insulating glass, and some states allow a tax write-off for their purchase. Older single-pane windows let in cold air, which could cost you heating bill money and perhaps get bad enough to freeze pipes. If you cannot afford new windows, consider installing storm windows. Caulk around windows, and if necessary, install large plastic insulation sheets over the entirety of drafty windows, using a hairdryer to seal the sheet according to package instructions.
--Install a programmable thermostat. It will not only keep your home's temperatures comfortable but also kick on while you're away for a vacation or the holidays, warming up your home and preventing frozen pipes.
--Install quality insulation. Either hire insulation experts or take a free seminar on insulation installation at your local home improvement store. Choose from energy-efficient or organic insulation materials, and apply generous amounts in your attic and crawlspaces to keep your home's heat in, which will help tremendously if you lose power for a few hours during a winter storm.
--Have chimneys cleaned and inspected. During cold winter nights or storms, you might light a fire in your fireplace for light and heat, or just to enjoy the coziness. But be sure to have your chimney inspected for breaks in the brick flue, blockages such as animal nests, proper flue range of motion and the buildup of dangerous creosote that can cause house fires and other problems. This may be a pricey repair job if structural damage is found, but it's a matter of life and death to get the cracks repaired -- or your fireplace will be unusable all season.
--Have your furnace inspected, and repaired if needed, so that it can work efficiently during the cold winter months. Your inspector will tell you whether you need to move storage items farther from the furnace. Keeping items too close is a common cause of fires.
--Have your driveway resurfaced now, or patch cracks with an asphalt kit. During winter, water can enter cracks, expand and create large cracks and gaps that will cause you to have to repave your entire driveway later. The same applies to pathways and in-ground pool surface areas.
--Store firewood far from the house. Keep chopped wood at least 50 feet from your home to prevent termites and other insects from infesting your home and necessitating a costly fumigation project later.
--Apply sealant to wood decks and rails. Extreme freezing/thawing cycles can damage wood planks without proper sealant, leading to splits and rotting.
--Caulk around the seals of dryer vents, cable outlets and other spaces where cold air can get in.
--Prepare an emergency kit that includes a radio, batteries, a first-aid kit, packaged foods, bottled water and other essential items in case you're stuck in your home in dangerous weather, and buy waterproof tarps to have on hand to cover any damage to your car or home from fallen tree limbs.