Woman shoveling snow

Ready for Winter

How to weatherproof your home
Author: Sarah M. Aldridge, MS

No matter what this winter dishes out, you can take it. Just by following a few expert tips, you can be cool, calm and collected in the face of snow, ice, blizzards and even power outages. If you start now, you’ll have in place what you need to weather any storm.

Start on the outside

During the fall, take a walk around the outside of your home. Gutters packed with leaves and debris need cleaning. Chimneys need sweeping. Leaks in the roof need patching. Water spigots need to be shut off, and hoses put away. Tree limbs that hang over your house or car need trimming so they don’t come crashing down during a wind, snow or ice storm.

The first snowfall doesn’t have to catch you by surprise. Take stock now of your shovels, ice melt, sand and car scrapers. If you have a bad back or joint issues, invest in an ergonomic shovel or snow pusher. Some shovels have a bent handle that helps distribute the weight of the snow more evenly. Snow pushers, some with wheels, allow you to move the snow without heavy lifting.

If you have a gas-powered snow blower, start it up and see how it’s running. Fill the tank with gasoline. Keep an extra gallon of gas in your garage or outdoor storage shed for refueling.

Inspect inside

Drafty windows and doors not only make you chilly, they can cost you money. The US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that leaky windows and doors can lower your home’s energy efficiency by up to 30% every year. Head to the hardware store for a supply of weather stripping, a caulking gun and spray-foam gun. Weather stripping can be tacked under doors, while caulking can be used around window frames. Spray-foam insulation allows you to seal small cracks or fissures. Or consider installing storm windows and doors. 

Insulation acts as a protective barrier between your walls, floors, ceilings and the outside. If it’s loose or missing, replace it. The DOE recommends buying insulation with the highest R-value. R-values are based on how thick and dense the material is, and its composition. There are several types of insulation, including the familiar rolls of pink fiberglass material in your attic.

Your hot water heater might be leaving you out in the cold. That’s because it can fail without warning, flooding your basement. Most hot water heaters have a lifespan of 10–15 years, so if yours is past its prime, replace it pronto. If it’s still going strong and is hot to the touch, it needs insulation, says the DOE. A pre-cut foam insulation blanket can be wrapped around your hot water tank. Pre-slit foam sleeves can be cut to fit around hot water pipes, then secured with duct tape. By insulating these, you can save up to 9% on your heating costs, according to the DOE. It also recommends setting your water heater to 120° vs. the usual 140°. There’s another savings of 6%–10% on your heating bill.

Your furnace also needs to be winterized. Filters on furnaces should be replaced every 4–6 weeks during the winter. Turning your thermostat down by even 10° overnight, can save you 10%, according to the DOE. Programmable thermostats provide added convenience, as you can preset the time and temperature.

A home energy audit can save you hundreds of dollars annually, the DOE says. (See sidebar, “Energy Audit.”) Further, if you choose appliances with the Energy Star label, you may be eligible for federal tax credits or local rebates from your utility company.

Preparing for power outages

People on the East Coast are familiar with nor’easters, those blustery storms that bring snow or rain and high winds. Prolonged gusty winds can knock out your power, literally leaving you in the dark. With some planning ahead of time, you can be ready for a loss of power.

Nonperishable foods will see you through until your power is restored. Items like peanut butter, soup, granola bars, dry cereal, fruit and bottled water can tide you over until you can cook again. To eat up perishable meats, camp stoves and grills come in handy at these times, but use them outside.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges homeowners to place appliance thermometers in their refrigerators. It recommends keeping your refrigerator at or below 40°, and your freezer at or below 0°. During a power outage, food will stay fresh in your refrigerator for 4 hours and up to 48 hours in your freezer, says the FDA. That is, if you don’t open the door and if the freezer is fully stocked. Otherwise, 24 hours is the limit for freezers only partially filled. And don’t be fooled by food that still looks good or doesn’t smell bad. “If in doubt, throw it out” should be your motto, warns the FDA.

To find out about the latest weather report or news update, a weather radio comes in handy. So do lanterns and flashlights. Solar LED lanterns and flashlights that run on batteries are your best bets, in terms of brightness and longevity. Before the storm hits, power up your cell phones, so you can call friends and family afterward to tell them you’re safe. 

If you or your child has a bleeding disorder, always keep a go-bag ready for weather emergencies. It should contain factor supplies, a first aid kit and important phone numbers. Stock your freezer with plenty of ice packs in case the power goes out. Keep insulated bags in stock in case you need to leave home and want to keep clotting factor cold.

If you have a generator, make sure it’s in good working order and that you have plenty of gas to fuel it. Also, do not run it from your basement or garage, as dangerous fumes can build up. Instead, make sure it’s at least 20' from your dwelling.

This year you can worry less and enjoy winter more if you take a few steps now to prepare your home. That investment will more than pay for itself as you see your heating bills go down and your comfort level go up. Just think, you’ll be weatherproof and winterproof before the snow flies.