Guide to Winter-Proofing Your House
Tips for Tackling the Outdoors
Outdoor furniture is pretty darn resilient, particularly when you use these storage tips from Mary Ulibarri, manager of Ludeman’s Fireplace and Patio in Beaverton, Oregon:
Clean: Mix warm water with a car wash solution, which is designed to cut through outside grime. Follow the package instructions, scrubbing furniture with a soft brush. Rinse with water and let air-dry.
Derust: Rub off rust with a scouring pad to stop it in its tracks (always test in a corner first to make sure you won’t scratch the surface).
Wash: Cushions and fabrics should either be machine-washed, or handwashed in a large basin with dishwashing soap and warm water. “Store them completely clean and dry,” says Ulibarri, to prevent rot and mold.
Store: Hardwood furniture (the heavy stuff, like teak or cherry) can stay outside. Soft woods (like pine or cedar, which age with uneven splotches) need to come indoors or be covered. If your furniture is aluminum, the heavyweight variety can be left outside; lightweight versions have hollow rails, which can hold water and crack when it freezes, so take it indoors. Store plastic or wicker indoors, and if you’re not sure what the heck your furniture is made of, take a cell phone photo and bring it to a patio store. They’ll know.
Cover: Anything that’s staying outdoors needs a breathable cover made of a Gore-Tex-like fabric to keep moisture from coming in while allowing moisture trapped inside to escape. We like covers made by Treasure Garden ($30 to $150; patio.com). Attach covers tautly so water can’t pool and freeze. Neat trick for table-and-chair sets: Place a bucket upside down on the table, and cover the bucket and furniture tightly. Water will run right over them to the ground.
Photo: courtesy of Thinkstock
Turn off water: Find the indoor water shutoff for all outside lines and turn it off. (If you don’t know where it is, ask your plumber.) Turn on the spigots and empty them; also empty out hoses and store them indoors. If you have an irrigation system, hire an irrigation professional to use an air compressor to empty the water lines so they don’t burst, says Jeremy Link, owner of EcoFriendly Irrigation in Cincinnati.
Aerate and seed: Want a lush spring lawn? Labor Day is the time to use an aerator (a rolling yard tool with spikes in it). “Aerating allows grass to get more water and grow more going into fall and winter,” says Hunter Stubbs, partner in B.B. Barns Garden Company in Asheville, North Carolina. If seeding is needed, do it now, when temperatures are still warm. We like the Yard Butler Core Lawn Aerator ($25; Amazon.com).
Fertilize: “Fertilize the lawn at Labor Day, and again around Thanksgiving,” says Stubbs. Fertilize shrubs in November too, when they’ve gone dormant.
Mulch flowers: Foolproof one-hour trick to a good-looking winter yard: Clear away sticks and leaves, pull up dead plants and use a rake to aerate the soil. Then mulch— it makes your flowerbeds look nice, and also prevents pests from living under debris. You can also neaten your garden by pruning back your perennials and flowering plants.
Photo: courtesy of Thinkstock
Clean: Taking a plastic bucket with you, climb a ladder and use gloves to remove debris so it doesn’t freeze and damage the gutter. (If you have someone to help, you can use a rope to raise and lower the bucket.) Consider getting gutter guards to use year-round to block out most gunk. We like mesh covers that allow water and some debris to pass through, rather than models that promise no debris, which tend to feature tiny holes that get plugged up. Try Amerimax Home Products White Vinyl Snap In Gutter Guard ($1.49; The Home Depot).
Check for moss: While you’re up there, glance around the gutters and roof for moss and algae. It grows at a glacial pace, but can do a lot of damage by keeping the roof below permanently wet and causing rot. If you see any, make a mixture of 5 parts water, 1 part bleach and a heaping tablespoon of trisodium phosphate (from a home improvement store), and spray it on the moss to kill it.
Photo: courtesy of iStockphoto
Seal: To prevent costly, damaging leaks to your brick, block or cement chimney, seal it every five years. A pro charges around $75 per hour, but if you’re comfortable on a ladder, apply clear acrylic water seal to all outside surfaces of the chimney, just like you’re painting. One to try: Thompson’s WaterSeal Multi-Surface Waterproofer ($10 per gallon; at Lowe’s).
Photo: courtesy of Shutterstock
Tips for Tackling the Indoors
Program thermostats: Set the thermostat to click on every time the daytime temperature drops below, say, 68°F (it’s cheaper to maintain a temperature than to turn a thermostat up and down). If your thermostats aren’t programmable, replace them: They’re easy to install and cost anywhere from $35 to $250—which you’ll make back in a month or two. By turning it up only when you’re home, you’ll save as much as 30 percent on your heating bill; setting the temperature at 68°F instead of 72°F can save 20 percent.
Replace filters: Change the filters in your furnace and, if you have one, forced-air system. (If you’re not sure where filters are or how to replace them, ask at your next heating inspection.) Dirty filters force the system to chug, wasting energy and costing you anywhere from 10 to 30 percent more.
Clear the path: Make sure that no furniture or objects are within 3 feet of space heaters or radiators. Even if that chair looks perfect near the heater, move it—it’s blocking the heat, and it’s a fire hazard besides.
Insulate: If you have a forced-air heating system, look for ducts running through unheated parts of the house, like the garage and attic. Measure those ducts and head to the store for precut insulation, which wraps right around them, keeping the hot air in the ducts (and in your home) toasty warm. About $1 per foot at The Home Depot can save you 10 percent on your bill.
Photo: courtesy of iStockphoto
Face it: You’re blowing hundreds of dollars on heat that immediately escapes to the outdoors. A mere $20 can eliminate most of that waste.
Caulk: And foam. Light a candle and move it around windows and doors; where it flickers, you’ve got a draft. (You can also test by dampening your hand.) Seal the gap with latex window caulk or foam sealant. You’ll still be able to open the window, and in the spring you can remove the caulk with a razor blade. If you won’t be opening the window, caulk the sash (where both parts of the window meet in the middle). And don’t forget the attic! Plug door bottoms with stick-on weatherstripping from a hardware store ($5 to $10). Winter heating bill savings: $100 to $300.
Insulate water pipes: Starting at your hot water heater, look for uninsulated hot water pipes running along the walls or ceilings. (If they’re not labeled, you can usually place a hand near them and feel the heat.) Polystyrene insulation, which has a slit in the middle, slips right over the pipe. And once you insulate, the heat stays in the pipes longer, so the hot water heater doesn’t need to work as hard. 25¢ per foot at The Home Depot. Savings: $50.
Insulate the water heater: Your heater should have a “blanket”—they look like giant versions of the little insulator bags for travel coffee mugs. If it doesn’t, take a snapshot of your water heater, measure the length and diameter, and head to the store (blankets are $20 to $40 at Lowe’s). Exceedingly smart investment, since the blanket will keep heat in and your hot water heater won’t have to turn on as frequently. Winter heating bill savings: $100.
Block dormant fireplaces: Not using the fireplace? Block it off so warm air can’t escape. Though home stores sell expensive seals, you can simply take cardboard, purchase an expanding foam at any hardware store and seal it. Put a pretty fireplace screen in front of it and no one will see. Check that the foam sealant (usually $6 to $9 per canister) can be used with the material your fireplace is made of. When warm weather comes, follow the removal instructions to take off the sealant, leaving no marks. Try Dap Kwik Foam (12 oz, $6; at any hardware store).