Some of you may argue that we don’t experience a real winter in Marin County, but taking a few steps now to prepare your home for Old Man Winter will bring you peace of mind and prevent potential trouble when we finally get rain and colder temperatures.
In a recent article, with the help of several experts, MSN Real Estate boiled down your autumn to-do list to 10 easy tips which I have adapted for our mild climate.
1. Clean those gutters: If you have deciduous trees and/or redwoods close to your home, your roof and gutters are no doubt covered with leaves and needles. While October has been totally dry, rain is forecasted for the next few days, and removing those leaves and any other debris from your gutters with a broom, a trowell or by hand and finally a good hose rinse should be at the top of your to-do list. Clogged drains can cause water to seep into the house. As you’re hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation and/or basement, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.
2. Block those air leaks: One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out, experts say. The average American home has leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group. After your mortgage, your utility bills are your highest home expenses, and a little effort will pay off and save you bundles.
Then, buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots, says Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated TV show “Today’s Homeowner.” Outlet gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share a home’s outer walls, where cold air often enters.
Read more about reducing your energy bill by sealing air leaks.
Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. “Even if it’s a small crack, it’s worth sealing up,” Lipford says. “It also discourages any insects from entering your home.”
Talking about pests, I would also highly recommend having someone make sure there are no openings that could allow small animals to gain access to the crawl space under your house. With the cold weather, they look for warm and dry spots to set up their winter quarters.
3. Insulate yourself: “Another thing that does cost a little money — but boy, you do get the money back quickly — is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic,” says Lipford. “Regardless of the climate conditions you live in, in the (U.S.) you need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic.”
Here’s his rule of thumb on whether you need to add insulation: “If you go into the attic and you can see the ceiling joists you know you don’t have enough, because a ceiling joist is at most 10 or 11 inches.”
4. Check the furnace: First, turn your furnace on now–if you have not already done so–to make sure it’s even working before the coldest weather descends. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. But if the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional.
It’s a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually. Costs will often run about $100-$125.
Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (check them monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed.
5. Get your ducts in a row According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That’s a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. (Check out this audit tool for other ideas on how to save on your energy bills this winter.)
Ducts aren’t always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, the basement and crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn’t stand up to the job over time).
Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.
6. Check your windows: Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens. If you have old, single-pane glass windows that are leaky or drafty, “[t]hey need to be updated to a more efficient window,” says Lipford.
Of course, windows are pricey. Budget to replace them a few at a time, and in the meantime, make sure you fix any leaks and close spaces that allow cold air in. Heavy window treatments or blinds can help as well.
7. Don’t forget the chimney: “A common myth is that a chimney needs to be swept every year,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “Not true. But a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year,” he adds. “I’ve seen tennis balls and ducks in chimneys,” he says.
Ask for a Level 1 inspection, in which the professional examines the readily accessible portions of the chimney, Eldridge says. “Most certified chimney sweeps include a Level 1 service with a sweep,” he adds.
Another tip: Buy a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen, advises Eldridge. “It’s probably the single easiest protection” because it keeps out foreign objects (birds, tennis balls) as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace’s walls. He advises buying based on durability, not appearance.
One other reminder: To keep out cold air, fireplace owners should keep their chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. And for the same reason, woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn’t in use.
8. Reverse that fan “Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don’t often think of,” says Lipford. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable. (Here’s how you know the fan is ready for winter: As you look up, the blades should be turning clockwise, says Lipford. Read more about lowering your energy costs with your ceiling fans.)
9. Wrap those pipes A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before Jack Frost sets his grip: Before freezing nights hit, make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house (via a turnoff valve), and that the lines are drained, says Broili. In climes such as ours in Marin, where freezing nights aren’t commonplace, you can install Styrofoam cups with a screw attachment to help insulate spigots, says Broili.
Next, go looking for other pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces — pipes that run through crawlspaces, basements or garages. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you’re really worried about a pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that emits heat.
10. Finally, check those smoke alarms This is a great time to check the operation — and change the batteries — on your home’s smoke detectors. Detectors should be replaced every 10 years, fire officials say. Test them — older ones in particular — with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the “test” button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works.
Also, invest in a carbon-monoxide detector; every home should have at least one. Read about frequently asked questions about carbon monoxide detectors.
If you need recommendations for professionals who can assist you with any of these tasks, feel free to contact me.
About the Author: The above Real Estate information on Marin County Real Estate was provided by Sylvie Zolezzi. I can be reached via email at Sylvie@YourPieceOfMarin.com or by phone/text at 415.505.4789. I am an award winning Realtor specializing in luxury residential real estate in beautiful Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I offer a wide range of real estate solutions for buyers, sellers and investors, attracting clients who demand excellence—in marketing, negotiations, market knowledge—and a genuine concern for their needs. My association with Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty allows me to provide a high-end luxury experience to all my clients at every single price point. It also enables me to leverage our unique combination of local knowledge and global resources, providing highly personalized service and unmatched exposure to my clients’ properties locally and worldwide.
I view it as a great privilege to be of assistance to people at very important stages of their lives—whether they are newlywed, starting a family, relocating, retiring, divorcing or mourning a loved one—because I view my job as much more than facilitating the sale or purchase of a property, but rather as helping them find their new sanctuary or part with the home where they have raised their children and created so many memories. In addition, I am always excited to help my clients discover Marin County, our stunning sceneries and unmatched lifestyle and find the right home in one of our charming towns: Sausalito, Tiburon, Belvedere, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Fairfax, and Novato.