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5 Home Projects To Do Before Cold Weather Arrives

With fall right around the corner, it’s time to complete a few home projects that are best handled before the weather turns cold and the days grow short—most notably buttoning up your house and getting its heating system working comfortably and efficiently.

cutting foam window weatherstrippingCameron Whitman / Shutterstock.com

Adhesive-backed foam weatherstripping is easy to cut with a sharp knife.

Don’t wait too long. When cold weather and short days arrive, you won’t want to discover cold air blowing in through your windows—or out of your heating system.

Nothing instills a sense of urgency like cold drafts or a broken furnace—but that urgency can be expensive and uncomfortable—in fact, an unheated house can be downright deadly in the wrong situation. The longer you wait, the more likely contractors or other service people will be overbooked and will charge a premium for their services.

So here are five things you should handle now, before the weather turns cold.

 

1: Get the heating system in order. A good place to start is your thermostat. Set it to “Heat,” and turn it up to about 5 degrees warmer than room temperature. If the heat doesn’t go on and stay on until the room reaches the set temperature, either the thermostat or the heating system has a problem.

replace and put date on new furnace filter©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Mark the date on the filter’s frame so you’ll know when it’s time to change it. Note: Be sure the “air flow” arrow is pointing in the right direction.

Replace the thermostat’s batteries first, and then try again. If you suspect that the thermostat may be defective, this is a good time to replace it with a new programmable model that can reduce your energy costs. If you know that the thermostat is functional, or replacing it doesn’t do the job, call an HVAC professional to check and service the heating system.

Be sure to change the air filters, which are typically located in the furnace’s air handler or inside the return-air registers in the rooms. If you’re having a pro work on the system, he or she should do this. Clean filters don’t just mean cleaner air—they also help the system work more efficiently.

When checking on the delivery of warmed air through the registers, make sure dampers or registers were not closed for the summer and that heated air can flow freely into rooms.

If your home’s heating system is powered by fuel that is stored on the premises, such as propane or fuel oil, be sure you have enough fuel for the next month or two.

 

2: Prepare the fireplace. If your home has a wood-burning fireplace that you intend to use regularly, stock-up on firewood and make sure the wood is protected from rain.

Next inspect the fireplace. Shine a flashlight up into the chimney from inside the fireplace. Make sure the damper works, and then open it. Check to be sure birds or rodents haven’t nested in the chimney. Inspect the chimney walls. If they are coated with creosote, a sap-like material that builds-up on surfaces, have the chimney cleaned by a professional chimney sweep—creosote is highly flammable and can cause a chimney fire. Also look for any missing bricks, crumbling mortar or broken chimney flue tiles that need to be fixed.

 

foam pipe insulationFrost King

Foam pipe insulation can help quiet some noisy pipes.

3: Protect water pipes. If you live where outdoor temperatures can drop below freezing, protect water pipes that run through unheated spaces, such as an attic or crawlspace. To do this, you can buy inexpensive foam pipe insulation sleeves at a home improvement center. These are sliced along their lengths so you can just push them onto pipes. While you’re in the plumbing department of the home improvement center, also buy an inexpensive emergency pipe repair clamp to keep on hand just in case a water pipe bursts.

 

4: Stop drafts. Windows and doors should be weather-stripped to prevent drafts and energy loss. To weather-strip windows and doors, you need to keep them open for a while, so it’s best to do this work before the weather gets too cold. If some of your windows and doors are not protected by weather-stripping, now is the time to seal them up. Buy inexpensive vinyl or foam weather-stripping and apply it according to the label directions.

Storm windows and doors can help with minimizing energy loss, too. If you have the kind of screen-and-storm doors that utilize interchangeable screen and glass panels, switch out screens for glass. Before you install the panels, check and tighten the clips that secure them. Also check and, if necessary, adjust the storm door closer so that it pulls the storm door tightly closed without banging it.

 

5: Flush the water heater. When the weather gets cold, so does the water that travels through outdoor pipes to supply your water heater. As a result, the water heater has to work longer to heat that very cold water. So water heater efficiency becomes really important.

The best way to keep a water heater working efficiently is to flush it once or twice a year. Mineral deposits build up over time and coat the bottom of the tank, reducing the efficient transfer of heat from the burners at the base. Flushing out some of the water helps remove these deposits.

water heater drain valve©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Water Heater Drain Valve

To flush a water heater, turn off the heat, either at the gas valve of a gas water heater or by shutting off an electric water heater’s electrical power. Then turn off the valve at the cold-water inlet pipe, usually right above the water heater. Locate the faucet-like drain valve in the side of the water heater at its base, attach a garden hose to it and run the end of the hose outdoors, terminating at a point that’s lower than the water heater. Turn on a nearby hot water faucet to allow air into the plumbing system, and then open the water heater’s drain valve to flush sediment out through the hose. Drain about 3 or 4 gallons of hot water until it becomes visibly clear, and then close the valve.

Reverse this process to refill and reheat the water heater. In other words, disconnect the hose, turn off the nearby hot water faucet, turn on the water supply to the water heater and wait a few minutes for the water heater to refill. Then, for an electric water heater, turn the power back on, or for a gas water heater, turn on the gas and, unless it is a pilotless model, relight the pilot light.

This article, written by HomeTips’s Don Vandervort, was originally posted by US News.com

12 Ways to Get Your House Ready for Storms

As severe weather continues to dominate the news, it pays to take heed and prepare for the worst, even if your home isn’t in the direct path of current storms. Here are 12 ways to get your house in order if you live in or near regions where storms and heavy rains are predicted.

cleaning leaves from rain gutter©Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Clean gutters and get them ready to handle heavy flow.

A home that isn’t ready for rain can become a winter nightmare as water leaks through the roof and ceilings, floods the ground floor or basement, and compromises the home’s structure. Here are 12 things you can do now to get ready:

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. When gutters and downspouts clog with leaves and debris, water overflows and spills down where it can damage walls and footings. Please see Rain Gutter Cleaning & Maintenance.  If your house is beneath many trees, it’s smart to clear the gutters at the beginning of the season, and then clean them again after the first rain to remove leaves and debris that wash down from the roof.
  • Check your roof, skylights, and flashing. The roof is the most obvious point of entry for rain. Please see How to Find & Fix a Roof Leak.  If checking your roof is more than you want to handle yourself, please see our affiliate partner, HomeAdvisor, to receive free bids from local asphalt shingle roof repair pros.
    Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal these with asphalt roofing cement.Ernest R. Prim / Shutterstock.com

    Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal these with asphalt roofing cement.

  • Repair gutters and downspouts. Fix loose, sagging, or leaking gutters and make sure downspouts carry drainage well away from the house. For more, see How to Fix Rain Gutters & Downspouts.
  • Inspect the house siding. Check for damage, cracks, and holes. Seal up leaks with paintable or clear caulk. Make sure the paint is in good condition. If it isn’t, consider getting the house painted before winter really sets in.
  • Weatherstrip windows and doors to seal out drafts and minimize heat loss. For more, see Weatherstripping Windows and/or Door Weatherstripping Options.
  • Prepare or install storm doors and windows. If your home has a combination storm/screen door with interchangeable glass and screen panels, switch from screens to glass (see Screen & Storm Door Buying Guide). Spray a little WD-40 on the storm door’s hinges and latches. Be sure the door closer is adjusted and working smoothly.
  • Need a sump pump? If your basement or crawl space is susceptible to flooding, consider buying a sump pump. If your home already has one, be sure it is in good working order. For more, see Sump Pumps Buying Guide.
    DuroStar electric generatorDuroStar

    1000-watt generator will provide emergency power.

  • Consider buying a generator. In the event of a power outage, a portable emergency generator can provide enough power to keep a few important lights and appliances running. A whole-house standby generator will automatically kick-on to keep the keep the whole house powered.
  • Cover and protect outdoor furniture, barbecues, outdoor equipment, and firewood with heavy tarps. Secure the tarps with ropes or heavy objects such as bricks.
  • If your property is in danger of being flooded, have materials such as sandbags or concrete edgings on hand to divert water to drainage areas.
  • Have trees trimmed, especially if they’ve become weakened by drought. When laden with rainwater, weak trees can snap or become easily uprooted.
  • Be ready for the worst. Assemble a disaster supply kit, and have it readily accessible. Scan and store important documents on thumb drives or hard drives located away from your home (or on the Cloud). Consider flood insurance; be aware that your home may become flooded even if it isn’t located in a high-risk area. Please see What To Do During a Storm Disaster.

Spring Home Repairs

10 post-winter home repairs to handle when weather clears, including improvements to ceilings, roofing, siding & more.

During mild spring days, take stock of storm and water damage to your home—most houses sustain at least a few problems during the winter months. Make the repairs now, before starting on any remodeling or other major warm-weather projects.

Look for shingle damage and make repairs.

Repair Water-stained Ceilings

Following a roof leak, there is usually a yellow or brown stain on the ceiling below. Don’t paint right over the stain as it will likely show through. Simply seal the stain with a stain sealer and then repaint the ceiling. You can try to touch up the area, but you’ll likely find that the entire ceiling needs to be repainted.

Fix Missing or Damaged Roofing

Look for trouble spots on top of the roof—but only in good weather and only if you can do so safely. Or, go into the attic with a bright flashlight to check for signs of moisture. Step only on secure framing members—never on the insulation or topside of the ceiling below as neither will support your body weight. Look for pinpoints of daylight showing through (though on a wood-shingle roof you’ll probably see many such places, but these tend not to leak because they’re protected by the shingles’ overlap). Once you’ve identified the problem area, see the Roof, Chimney & Gutters section for information on how to repair your roof.

Fix Leaking Roof Flashing

Many serious roof leaks are not caused by missing or damaged shingles but rather by broken or improperly installed roof flashing. Repair or replace it, as needed. See How to Repair Roof Flashing.

Repair Siding Leaks

If you’ve discovered any areas where your home’s siding fails to hold Mother Nature out, see How to Repair Wood Siding for information on how to repair your siding.

Clear Gutters & Downspouts

Water damage often comes from clogged gutters and downspouts; dry weather affords the opportunity to clean them out. For information on replacing gutters, check out How to Repair Rain Gutters.

Eliminate Water in the Basement or Crawlspace

Keeping these spaces dry protects against dry rot, prevents moist air from being drawn up into the living space, and arrests the growth of mold. Depending on what you find, you may need a sump pump. Check out the Sump Pumps Buying Guide.

Repair Storm Doors

Winds can take a toll on storm doors. Often, the door closer becomes bent, breaks, or pulls away from the doorjamb. For more information on how to get your storm door back in shape, see Screen & Storm Door Repairs.

Block Air Leaks Around Windows

Mitigate drafts and save energy at the same time by installing or replacing weatherstripping.

Repair Rotted Woodwork

Where wood sills or sashes have taken serious abuse from the weather, resulting in rot, use epoxy wood filler to repair the area. Use a chisel to dislodge the loose, rotted wood, and then drill a few 1/4-inch holes into the damaged wood. Soak the entire rotted area with liquid epoxy “consolidant” to transform the area into a sturdy base for filler. Let the wood absorb the consolidant for about five minutes, and then continue reapplying, waiting, and applying again until the wood ceases to accept any more consolidant. Knead a batch of epoxy filler, according to label directions, and mold the repair. As the material cures, dip a putty knife into the solvent and use it to sculpt and shape the repair. Sand, file, or rasp as needed, and paint the area within three days.

Service Your Furnace and/or Air Conditioner

With forced-air systems, air returning to the air handler’s blower first passes through an air filter designed to catch dust and debris and help clean the air before it’s recycled back into your home. Change the filters quarterly or more frequently if they look dirty.

Prioritizing Your “Honey-do” List

As a family man and do-it-yourselfer, I’ve learned that one inevitable component of home ownership is the “honey-do” or do-it-yourself list.

In fact, with our 65-year-old house, checking tasks off my list could easily consume every weekend’and the list would never grow shorter.

Of course, there is more to life than fixing flapper valves and fussing with fuses, so my top priority has become to set my top priorities.

Actually, this isn’t as confusing as it sounds. The idea is to spend time on the projects that will produce the most important benefits. Being clear about what those benefits are is key. This gives you the information you need to prioritize a honey-do list.

In broad terms, the list should begin with needs and move on to wants. Begin with projects that protect your family and your house’s structure, then do things that add comfort and save money, and last, handle projects that are more discretionary in nature.

You might want to prioritize your list in this order:

1. Handle any to-do item that could affect your family’s safety. For example, make sure your home has working smoke alarms. And be sure to childproof your home if you have little ones in the house.

2. Repair any problem that interrupts the use of your home or threatens to cause permanent damage. If rainwater is dripping from the ceiling, repair the roof. Otherwise, the water will ruin your ceiling, damage the floor, and ultimately undermine your home’s structure. Similarly, if your pipes freeze, take the necessary steps to thaw them out.

3. Eliminate any potential long-term health hazards that your home may present. If you have concerns about the safety of your drinking water, the quality of your air, or the presence of asbestos or lead in your home, take steps to alleviate the problems.

4. Handle maintenance that will protect your house from long-term damage. Jobs in this category include painting the house, installing new roofing, and making your basement a drier place.

5. Make upgrades that will ultimately save you money. Projects that reduce energy and water consumption fall into this category.

6. Make relatively easy, low-cost improvements that offer significant results. You can stretch your improvement dollars with high-impact efforts, such as painting, wallpapering, and changing fixtures.

7. Polish off repairs that have a big nuisance factor—faulty doorknobs, squeaky floors, dripping faucets, and the like. The sooner you fix these things, the happier everyone in the household will be.

8. Take care of cosmetic repairs. Fix that hole in the wall, replace the outdated light fixture, and repair the moldings.

9. Do more involved improvements that will add to your home’s value. Some major remodeling projects offer a much higher return on investment than others.

10. Build yourself a hammock and rest up before you receive your next honey-do list.

Prioritizing Your "Honey-do" List

As a family man and do-it-yourselfer, I’ve learned that one inevitable component of home ownership is the “honey-do” or do-it-yourself list.

In fact, with our 65-year-old house, checking tasks off my list could easily consume every weekend’and the list would never grow shorter.

Of course, there is more to life than fixing flapper valves and fussing with fuses, so my top priority has become to set my top priorities.

Actually, this isn’t as confusing as it sounds. The idea is to spend time on the projects that will produce the most important benefits. Being clear about what those benefits are is key. This gives you the information you need to prioritize a honey-do list.

In broad terms, the list should begin with needs and move on to wants. Begin with projects that protect your family and your house’s structure, then do things that add comfort and save money, and last, handle projects that are more discretionary in nature.

You might want to prioritize your list in this order:

1. Handle any to-do item that could affect your family’s safety. For example, make sure your home has working smoke alarms. And be sure to childproof your home if you have little ones in the house.

2. Repair any problem that interrupts the use of your home or threatens to cause permanent damage. If rainwater is dripping from the ceiling, repair the roof. Otherwise, the water will ruin your ceiling, damage the floor, and ultimately undermine your home’s structure. Similarly, if your pipes freeze, take the necessary steps to thaw them out.

3. Eliminate any potential long-term health hazards that your home may present. If you have concerns about the safety of your drinking water, the quality of your air, or the presence of asbestos or lead in your home, take steps to alleviate the problems.

4. Handle maintenance that will protect your house from long-term damage. Jobs in this category include painting the house, installing new roofing, and making your basement a drier place.

5. Make upgrades that will ultimately save you money. Projects that reduce energy and water consumption fall into this category.

6. Make relatively easy, low-cost improvements that offer significant results. You can stretch your improvement dollars with high-impact efforts, such as painting, wallpapering, and changing fixtures.

7. Polish off repairs that have a big nuisance factor—faulty doorknobs, squeaky floors, dripping faucets, and the like. The sooner you fix these things, the happier everyone in the household will be.

8. Take care of cosmetic repairs. Fix that hole in the wall, replace the outdated light fixture, and repair the moldings.

9. Do more involved improvements that will add to your home’s value. Some major remodeling projects offer a much higher return on investment than others.

10. Build yourself a hammock and rest up before you receive your next honey-do list.

Fall Home Repairs

As the dog days of summer usher in autumn, I begrudgingly face the reality that it’s time to buckle down and handle a few important chores around the house. These are the kinds of tasks that aren’t particularly rewarding now but, on a cold, wind-swept winter night, let me sleep a little better knowing they’ve been done. autum-fall-home-repairs

Once winter blows in, houses have to get serious. Roofs must shed rain and snow, windows and doors must reject the cold, and the heating system must keep rooms comfortable. If any of these components fails to hold up its part of the bargain, we have to scramble around in the wet, cold, and/or dark to fix them.

So let’s get started. By handling these few, important, reasonably easy tasks now, you can avoid considerable grief later.

Inspect the Roof

If possible, go up onto the roof to check its condition, but only do this if you can do it safely. Look for cracked or missing shingles, bald spots on shingles, missing or damaged flashing, and other conditions that might allow in leaks. If composition shingles look aged, bend back the corner of one; if it crumbles or breaks, figure it is time for replacement. In most cases, you can do minor repairs yourself such as sealing small cracks or tears with roofing cement. For more about this, please see Finding & Fixing Roof Leaks.

Is asphalt roof installation or repair right for you? This article will help!

From a ladder, check the roofing and gutters.

Do not climb onto a roof that is steep, wet, or icy. Instead, consider checking the surface from a ladder or, if you can’t safely climb a ladder, use a pair of binoculars to scan for broken or missing shingles. From the top of a ladder, you can check the gutters along a typical asphalt-shingle roof for fine, gravel-like granules that wash down from the roof’s surface. An accumulation of these usually means the surface is wearing away and replacement time is near. If the situation is serious, call a roofing contractor.

Gutters can get clogged with leaves quickly. It's best to clean them before the rains come.

Gutters can get clogged with leaves quickly. It’s easiest to clean them before rain comes.

Check the Gutters

While you’re on the ladder, look into the gutters. If they are clogged with leaves and debris, either call a gutter specialist or clean the gutters yourself. Gutters prevent basement and foundation flooding and water damage to siding, windows, and doors. When clogged with leaves and debris, they will fill with rainwater and overflow. To make matters worse, the added weight of the water may pull them loose from the eaves. See Rain Gutter Cleaning & Maintenance.[GARD align=”left”]

Inspect the Siding

Check the siding for cracks, damage, and separations. In most cases, you can seal up any leaky spots with clear caulking compound (or buy paintable caulk and touch up with paint). If your home has wood siding, be sure to see How to Repair Wood Siding. For more serious siding repairs, call a siding contractor.

If close inspection of the paint reveals problems such as blistering, peeling, alligatoring, or chalking, either touch them up (if the areas are small) or call a painting contractor.

Check the Weatherstripping

Also look to see if windows and doors are effectively sealed with weatherstripping. Weatherstripping will prevent drafts and winter heat loss. If weatherstripping is damaged, it’s usually easiest and most effective to entirely replace it rather than try to repair it. See Weatherstripping Windows and/or Door Weatherstripping Options.

Service the Heating System

If your home is heated by a forced-air furnace, turn off the power to the unit and replace its disposable filter or clean its permanent filter according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. While the furnace cabinet is open, brush and vacuum the blower blades. If you see potential leaks around air ducts, seal them by wrapping them with duct tape. For more, see Furnace Troubleshooting & Repairs. If you are not experienced at this type of work, call a furnace technician.[GARD align=”right”]

Sweep the Chimney

If you can see past the damper in the throat of the chimney, shine a flashlight up from inside to look for black, scaly creosote buildup on the inner walls. Creosote buildup must be removed periodically to prevent chimney fires. The amount of buildup inside the chimney will depend on how much wood you burn seasonally (especially resinous wood such as pine) and how long it has been since the last cleaning. Cleaning is generally recommended at least once a year for an active fireplace. For more about techniques, see Chimney Cleaning & Care. Call a chimney sweep to have this done.

Adjust Storm Doors

A storm door can reduce energy costs and prevent drafts. To keep your storm door working properly, put a couple of drops of light oil or spray a little WD-40 on the hinges and latches. Be sure the door closer is adjusted and working smoothly; to adjust the closing speed of a pneumatic closer, just turn the adjustment screw in the end cap. If you have a combination storm and screen door with interchangeable glass and screen panels, switch from screens to glass panels. (For more information, see the section on screens and storms.) If you need a new storm door, see the Screen & Storm Door Buying Guide.