Cold Weather Is Here: Make Sure You’re Prepared in Your Home – New or Old
Winter has arrived, and a lot of “unwelcome events” are on the rise: high heating bills, discomfort due to chilly drafts, instances of freezing water pipes, ice dams on the roof causing leaking in the attic, and even roof failures, among other things. But don’t despair, you may be able to avoid many of these problems.
When you live in an existing home or plan to build a new one in a climate with harsh winters, there are a number of things you can do to be sure the home is up to weather’s challenges. But even if you don’t experience harsh winter weather and piles of snow and ice, you’re likely to experience cold temperatures – often below freezing if not below zero – occasionally, even in the Deep South.
Preparation is key to avoiding problems, and to that end, we have a few tips and some good advice for being prepared for winter’s onslaught. Whether you’re planning to build your dream home after years of thinking about it and preparing your family for it or you’re just prepping your existing home to ensure it’s ready for winter, these are the most important things to consider.
When you live in a home in a cold climate, you must be prepared for winter – for comfort and safety's sake. Here, there's lots of firewood stcked for the wood stove to burn; the owners will have made sure the chimneys are clear and checked off the items that ajpply below (photo credit: Mike Petrucci on Unsplash).
Existing Home Winterization
Anyone who owns or has lived in a house knows the importance of the traditional Scout motto “Be Prepared.” Homeowners typically face certain tasks each season to be sure their house will be prepared. And at no time is this more important than when preparing for winter. Here are some important tasks to keep in mind:
Clean out the roof gutters. Fall has likely left unprotected gutters full of or at least partially blocked by dead leaves. This will block the flow of water from the roof – and during winter it will ensure that ice builds up onto the roof causing ice dams because the water from melting ice will have nowhere to go.
Gutters that a clogged with leaves will not drain properly and will be more likely to ice up during winter and cause an ice dam on the roof (photo credit: © Trong Nguyen, Dreamstime)
Make sure windows and doors are airtight. On the exterior, inspect the joint between window and door frames and the siding to be sure the caulking or sealant is in good shope. If not, scrape it out and replace it. On the interior, check the weatherstripping on doors and windows for wear and tear and replace any that appear torn, have missing sections, or have failed in some other way.
Service heating equipment. You should have a service contract for your heating system that includes a yearly inspection and service. If not, make an appointment with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technician to have your system checked and serviced – and mark your calendar to have that done every year before winter arrives.
Clean out the fireplace chimney. If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you should have it inspected and cleaned if necessary at least every other year or two if not yearly, especially if you regularly use the equipment. Doing so prevents the buildup of creosote, a flammable tar-like byproduct of burning wood, in the chimney. The presence of excess creosote may result in a chimney fire that could cause serious damage to your home. At the same time, check that the flue damper is in working order.
Protect outdoor faucets. If you don’t have freeze-proof faucets or at least a shutoff valve for each faucet, you should install an insulated protective cap over the faucet as shown in the photo below. It’s also a good idea to drain and put away hoses until springtime.
This orange cap is an insulated cover that protects a faucet from freezing in winter. The hose should be drained and put away until spring arrives (photo gredit: © C5Media, Dreamstime).
Make sure you have a good supply of ice melt. Salt, sand, or nontoxic ice melt are useful to have on hand, especially for walkways and driveways that are not south facing or are shaded from direct sunlight by buildings or stands of conifer trees. The ice treatments help reduce the buildup of slippery ice and make clearing and shoveling easier – and walking and driving surfaces safer.
Reverse ceiling fans. It’s common knowledge that during warm weather ceiling fans in bedrooms and other rooms throughout the house help keep you cool even if you have air conditioning. The ceiling fans push air down and create breezes that cool you off. But did you know that most ceiling fans are reversible and may be used during winter? Reversing the rotation of a ceiling fan to clockwise through the reverse switch and running it at a slow speed allows the unit to circulate air, pulling cooler from the floor up toward the warmer air that collects at the ceiling and thus breaking up the stratification that can make a room feel cooler that it should. This is especially useful in rooms with high and/or vaulted ceilings.
Change alarm batteries. Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are important at all times but especially during the heating season when faulty equipment is more likely to emit CO and fireplaces or wood stoves may cause a fire. Change batteries every year; pick a time like Thanksgiving or the first day of winter to make it easy to remember.
Dream Home Preparedness
When you’re planning and building your new home, you can build-in certain defenses against the ravages of winter’s cold, wind, snow, and ice. From sturdy construction to sealing and insulating to ensuring you can withstand emergency situations, a little forethought and preparation can go a long way.
Roof Built for Heavy Snow Loads
If you plan on building a home in New England, the Midwest, or the Rocky Mountains, you need to consider the impacts of snow when designing your home, especially the impacts on your roof.
This is because if too much snow and ice builds up on the roof, the roof can begin to sag if it isn’t strong enough. This sagging leads to pooling water when the snow melts, or anytime it rains when the weather is warmer. In some extreme cases, a poorly built roof can even collapse from too much snow buildup.
To avoid this, it’s important to consult with your builder to ensure all local home construction rules and regulations are being followed to a T. Before beginning, it’s good to know that residential roofs in the United States need to be able to support at least 20 pounds of snow per square foot at a minimum.
However, depending on your home’s location and your builder’s advice, you can altar things like your roof’s pitch and materials to increase its durability and offer more than the standard amount of snow load support.
The steeper the slope, the better a roof can withstand – and shed – snow. So besides using dimensional lumber that’s beefy enough to span reasonable distance and hold up under better-than-average snow loads, make sure the roof on your new house has a steep pitch in you’re building if an area with high snowfalls (Plan #126-1890).
When building the roof, it's important that, although the attic is insulated well, the roof itself – unless it's a vaulted-ceiling roof – is ventilated and will maintain a close-to-outside temperature from eaves to peak. Having a cool roof will reduce or elimate the possibility of ice dams – ice at the edge of a roof that blocks melting snow on a warm roof from draining away – forming even more ice and compromising the roof. This is accomplished by using insulation baffles at the eaves, which allow air from ventilated soffits to circulate into the attic, and roof vents, which allow the attic air to vent to the outside. A further protection when building the roof: installing an ice and water shield at least about halfway up the roof under the shingles. The shield is a heavy-duty polymer membrane with adhesive on the bottom that adheres to the roof. Even if an ice dam does form, melted ice at the bottom will not be able to penetrate the structure of the roof.
Ice built up in a gutter like this can be the beginning of an ice dam if you have a roof that is too warm due to improper building techniques. On a warm roof, water melting from snow and ice is blocked by the ice in the gutter and backs up the roof, seeping under shingles and causing roof leaks. Proper construction and the use of an ice shield membrane can alleviate this problem (photo credit: © Teeimagination, Dreamstime).
Adequate (or More Than Adequate) Insulation
Heat is always looking for a way to escape. One of the most essential parts of a winter preparedness checklist for your home is ensuring that it doesn’t have a place to go. That is, unless you would prefer to be freezing and have a very high utility bill each month.
While there are many different materials that you can consider using to insulate your new home, including fiberglass, cotton, wool, cork, and more, what’s important is that it is done properly.
And it needs to be done in more places than you think.
For example, most people know that you must insulate a home’s exterior walls and attic, but did you know that there are additional spaces that make a huge difference to a home’s temperature and efficiency?
You can click here to read more about installation options for your home – and keep reading to discover additional locations for home insulation.
Top: Insulation is important for walls and ceilings on the top story of a house. This insulation is unfaced and will be covered by an impervious wapor barrier before workers apply drywall (photo credit: © Calvin L. Leake, Dreamstime). Bottom: Adequate attic insulation is among the most important safeguards against heat loss in a home. Heat rises, so although sidewall insulation is important, it's imperative that attic insulation meets or exceeds recommendations for your local area – and often that's overlooked (photo credit: © Photovs, Dreamstime).
Insulated Foundation (on the Exterior)
Something that you might not have considered when creating a winter preparedness checklist for your new home build is that its foundation also needs to be properly insulated, not just its walls and roof.
This is because warm air wants to rise and will always look for an escape route, so it’s essential that each possible point is sealed off efficiently to decrease not only air leakage, but also your energy bills. That is, when it is installed properly, foundation insulation not only keeps heated air in to keep homes warm, but it also keeps unwanted things like insect infestations, radon infiltration, and moisture problems out.
As there are different types of foundations to choose from, it’s important to consult with your builder about the best possible insulation techniques for your space and specific location, as best practices might differ depending on what type of foundation you have.
Insulated Pipes near the Foundation
Insulating the pipes on your new home will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long term. This is because winter weather often has an adverse impact on pipes. If the water supply pipes in your home are on exterior walls or in other unheated spaces (like the garage, crawl spaces, attics, etc.), they may freeze. This causes them to burst, which can lead to expensive repairs due to flooding.
But preventing flooding isn’t the only perk! You also get to enjoy warmer showers all winter long as the water won’t cool down as it travels through uninsulated piping.
There are a few different ways to insulate your pipes. You can do any of the following things:
Water pipes, especially near the outside walls in the home and foundation should be insulated with faom covers like these (photo credit: © Maxopphoto, Dreamstime).
Double or Triple Pane, Weatherstripped Windows
Poorly insulated windows can be the number-one source of heat loss (and thus the number-one source of your utility bill going up) in a home.
When you live in a colder climate, you need to have at least double-paned windows, if not triple-paned. These windows can be expensive upfront, but are worth it in the long run.
Double-pane windows consist of two panes of glass with an insulating layer of air or clear and odorless gas, usually argon, in between them.
In triple-pane windows, the middle pane of glass – or in some cases a layer of plastic film – has air (or the insulating gas layer) on both sides of it. Using a layer of plastic film between two panes of glass makes the windows lighter in weight than those with three panes of glass. The triple glass may also tend to make the windows appear darker than conventional ones.
Large Pantry, or Additional Storage Space
Something else to consider when building a home in a climate that is more prone to harsh winters is the need for a large walk-in pantry and other additional storage space. This is because the likelihood of needing to “hunker down” is significantly higher than in warmer climates because severe weather events occur in colder places more often.
Unlike wildfires or hurricanes in which residents would need to evacuate their homes, colder climates experience blizzards (or in milder cases, simply heavier snowfall than normal) in which the prevailing emergency advice is exactly the opposite: stay home.
It’s definitely a big selling point for a home to have plenty of space for food, drinks, and other household supplies if the residents need to stay home for days on end due to inclement weather – or, if 2020 has taught us anything, any other extenuating circumstances.
Whole-House Standby Generator
Lastly, something to consider when preparing your home for winter is investing in a generator that can power your entire house and have it ready to go to standby power should the electricity get cut offt.
It doesn’t matter if your home is cut off from its power supply for a few hours hour or a week or more, having a generator is a great investment. This is because it can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on spoiled food and lost productivity should you be working from home.
A generator can also provide power for life-saving medical devices in case of a prolonged power outage, and even smartphones and radios as power outages may easily outlast any rechargeable power banks.
In a harsh winter climate, having a home stand-by generator on hand is perfect for these things, but most importantly, it keeps the heat on.
This whole-house standby generator (top) will satisfy the electrical load of an average home until the utility comes back on line. Different sizes will satisfy different home loads. The engine (bottom) typically runs on liquid propane or natural gas (source: Generac).
Why Follow this Winter Preparedness Checklist?
There are two main reasons that you need to follow this winter preparedness checklist when preparing for winter or building a new home.
The first reason is the safety of you, your family, as well as any future residents.
Severe winter weather comes with plenty of hazards, namely the impacts of heavy snowfall. A roof caving in due to improper construction is a logistics and insurance headache but can also cause severe injury or even death to residents of the home.
In addition, not having things like a standby generator on hand could severely impact your family’s health should the power be out for extended periods of time.
The second is that properly winterizing – or investing in a winter-proofed home up front – makes maintenance costs less expensive in the long run.
Heat is always looking for a way to escape, so properly insulating a home will save you thousands of dollars on utility bills over the years. In addition, insulating pipes will save you from the headache of waking up to a burst pipe in the basement.
Following this winter preparedness checklist for your home is bound to not only keep you and your family more comfortable and safe over the colder months, but it will also keep more money in your pocket in the long term.
Footnote: Photo credit for the lead image of the article: Sam Beasly on Unsplash