It's the time of year when you trade your T-shirts for wool sweaters, your leaf rakes for snow shovels and your air conditioning for a roaring fire. The first snowfall is exciting and the holidays are just around the corner. But while your kids have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, you're envisioning sky-high heating bills, bursting water pipes and other havoc wreaked on your home by the plummeting temperatures.
As homeowners we're often faced with the harsher realities of the changing seasons. A heavy snowfall doesn't just mean a day off school or work; it can also mean an overworked furnace, a power outage, even burst pipes. And let's not forget about rising energy costs -- Americans spend almost twice as much of their income on energy as they did a decade ago, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. While we can't always predict what Jack Frost will send our way from year to year, we can take a few precautions to ensure we spend less time cleaning up weather-induced messes and fretting over utility bills and more time building sledding ramps in the back yard.
Most winter home prepping can be accomplished in a single, dedicated weekend. And you don't have to spend a lot of money either; you just need to be smart about it. Here we'll take a look at some ways to get your "ducts" in a row for the coming cold.
How to Winterize Windows
Did you know about one-third of the heat lost in a home finds its way to the outside through doors and windows? That's a huge amount. Inefficient heating and insulation can drive up electric and gas bills just around the time you're pinching pennies to afford Christmas gifts.
Windows are just bound to have gaps around them. The seal around the edges wears down or cracks over time with changing temperatures and a settling house. After a while, these gaps and cracks can let hot air out and cold air in (or vice versa during the summer). Use waterproof caulking or weather stripping to block the gaps and keep the heat inside where it belongs.
For added protection against heat loss, consider investing in storm windows, which are temporary and install easily over your existing windows. According the Natural Resources Defense Council, storm windows can reduce heat loss between 25 and 50 percent. If storm windows aren't in the budget, pick up a window insulator kit, a plastic film that covers your windows to help reduce heat transfer. Drawing heavy drapes across sliding glass doors can also help keep heat inside your home.
Lastly, remove your window screens during the winter and store them in a safe place, like a garage, shed or attic. Storing them protects the screens from damaging cold and wind (and wayward snowballs).
The house itself isn't the only thing that needs to get ready for winter. Your outdoor spaces need a little TLC too. Keep reading to find out what to do with plants and flowers.
How to Winterize Flowers and Plants
Just as bears and raccoons hibernate over the winter, most plants go dormant during the colder months. Most plants need sunlight, warmth and water to grow -- three things usually lacking in the wintertime -- so they stop growing and rest for a few months. During that time you get to take a break too, but before you trade in your leaf rake for a snow shovel, prep your plants.
Try to get in one last good watering of your outdoor plants during the late fall before the first hard freeze. You can also apply a slow-acting fertilizer to trees and shrubs, which will continue to feed the plants through the winter months.
For perennials and bulbs, cut back any dead above-ground parts to ensure all of the plant's energy is devoted to building strong roots. To keep the roots and bulbs from freezing, add an insulating layer of mulch in the fall.
Container plants are the most vulnerable in the winter because pots do a terrible job of insulating a plant's roots. Move potted plants into an area that's sheltered from the wind and snow, like a garage or shed. Wrap their containers in insulating material, like foam, straw or clippings from evergreens. You can also apply an antitranspirant spray (a chemical solution that helps reduce moisture loss when the air is dry by limiting how much water evaporates from the plant's leaves).
Tie evergreen branches together to keep them from breaking off in the cold and wind. Trim weak branches on any trees hanging over your house or driveway so they won't snap under the weight of snow or the force of the wind and cause damage.
Tips for Winterizing Your House
Who wants to experience a winter without heat? It's downright dangerous, so check out your house well before the first frost. Inspect your furnace, ducts, chimney, and pipes for leaks, cracks or broken parts. Perform any maintenance or energy-saving tasks, like insulating pipes, sweeping the chimney or changing the furnace filter. At the same time, protect the AC by covering it with a tarp and draining the water from any connected pipes.
To keep that precious heat from escaping through cracks, attach door sweeps to the bottoms of your doors. You can also use a draft stopper (also called a draft snake or a draft guard), a long fabric tube filled with rice or beans or an inflatable pouch that blocks the gap under a door.
Late fall is a good time to change the batteries on your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Many fires and cases of carbon monoxide poisoning happen in the winter because people are using their furnaces and other heat sources more often.
Another easy fix is to flip the switch on your home's ceiling fans. Running them in reverse pushes heat downward into the room instead of pulling it up and away. Just don't forget to change them back in the spring!
Last but not least, make sure you have your winter tools on hand. Haul out that shovel or snow blower, ice scraper, firewood and rock salt. You'll be happy you set them aside when you open the door to 3 feet of snow.
For more about prepping for the coming cold, take a look at the links on the next page.
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. "Energy Cost Impacts on American Families, 2001-2012." (Feb. 16, 2012). http://www.americaspower.org/sites/default/files/Energy_Cost_Impacts_2012_FINAL.pdf
- Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "Preparing for Winter." (Feb. 8, 2012). http://www.adem.arkansas.gov/ADEM/Divisions/Directors/PublicRelations/winter.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Prepare Your Home for Winter Weather." December 7, 2007. (Feb. 9, 2012). http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/beforestorm/preparehome.asp
- Evertson, Justin. "Proper Planting of Trees and Shrubs." Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Dec. 15, 2003. (Feb. 9, 2012). http://arboretum.unl.edu/poppages/treeplanting.html
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. "USFA and NFPA Join Forces to Put a Freeze on Winter Fires." Nov. 10, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012). http://www.usfa.fema.gov/media/press/2011releases/111011.shtm
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: U.S. Fire Administration. "Winter Storms & Extreme Cold." (Feb. 9, 2012). http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
- Howard, Brian Clark. "Winterize Your Doors: Bring Back the Draft Snake." The Daily Green. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://www.thedailygreen.com/going-green/tips/draft-stoppers-door-snakes
- Natural Resources Defense Council. "Energy Out the Window?" Nov. 15, 2011. (Feb. 6, 2012). http://www.nrdc.org/living/energy/energy-out-window.asp
- Solomon, Christopher. "10 Ways to Winterize Your Home -- Now." MSN Real Estate. (Feb. 5, 2012). http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13107899
- WSU Clark County Extension. "Winter Container Care." (Feb. 9, 2012). http://clark.wsu.edu/volunteer/mg/gm_tips/WinterCare.html
- Yardener. "Winterizing Landscape Plants." (Feb. 5, 2012). http://yardener.com/YardenersPlantHelper/YardCareTechniques/WinterProtectionForPlants/WinterizingLandscapePlants