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How to Maintain your Home and Keep it from Freezing in the Winter

Updated on December 19, 2015
Winter is a beautiful time of year, but that pure snow and brisk temperatures can cause a lot of damage.
Winter is a beautiful time of year, but that pure snow and brisk temperatures can cause a lot of damage. | Source

Just because it’s freezing outside doesn’t mean it needs to be freezing inside, too. Make sure your home is comfortable without sending the energy bill through the roof with these pointers.

Window and Door Insulation

Heat tends to escape when there are air leaks in your windows and doors. Although getting new fixtures will usually solve the problem, not everyone can afford the cost. Fortunately, these ideas are all easy enough to do on your own with minimal expense.

Because our windows are old and can be pretty drafty, we’ve put plastic over them for the past several years. Most hardware stores carry kits for putting plastic over the windows either inside or outside. I can tell you from experience, that cold spots are dramatically reduced once the plastic is up. Your energy bill won’t be as frightening, either.

When you’re winterizing your yard, you should also take a look at the seals around your windows and doors. Even tiny cracks can cause cold spots, which are both uncomfortable and expensive in heating costs. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to reinforce seals with caulking yourself.

Under Door Insulation
Your front and back doors can also be a source of air leakage. Instead of replacing the entire door, you can simply put a door snake down to keep more cold air out, while keeping the warm air in.

Door snakes are basically tubes of fabric that are filled with sand. When they’re tucked against the gap between door and floor, they’re very effective in keeping the cold out. You can either make one yourself or buy one.

Weather Stripping
An alternative to caulking or using a door snake is to install new weather stripping in your windows and doors. Usually, this foamy substance is applied when the fixtures are first put in, but over time, it wears down and can become damaged.

When you scrape the old stripping away and install a fresher version, you're effectively getting rid of drafts which had developed over time.

Great How-To on Caulking

Frozen Pipes

Science tells us that water expands when it freezes. When soda freezes, and its can bursts, the same thing happens with pipes. You won’t hear the fizz or end up cleaning a sticky mess off of your car’s ceiling, but burst pipes can lead to water damage, mold and mildew.

How to ID Frozen Pipes
There are two primary ways to find out if your pipes are frozen:

  • If you turn on a faucet, but no water comes out.
  • If, after turning the faucet off, you can still hear water running somewhere.

When you discover there’s a problem, turn off your home’s main water line and look for the problem.

Preventing and Fixing Frozen Pipes
Once you find the frozen pipes, you can gradually thaw them in the same way that you can prevent them.

Never ever use a torch on frozen pipes, since doing just that has caused many house fires in the past. Instead, gentle thawing through ambient heat is the best way to go.

  • Insulate crawl spaces
  • Fill tiny cracks with foam or caulking
  • In bathrooms, keep vanity doors open to allow heat into the room
  • Circulate warm air with fans
  • Use heaters if you’re in for a cold snap, or as is known around here, an “arctic blast”
  • Keep garage door closed as much as possible if there’s a laundry room or bathroom bordering it

Don’t forget to take in the hose and turn off all external faucets before the first hard freeze of the season.

Brand new air ducts and fuse box in a building-in-progress.
Brand new air ducts and fuse box in a building-in-progress. | Source

Monitor Air Quality

Since many people spend so much time inside over the winter months, indoor air quality becomes more of a concern. Improperly ventilated air can cause allergies to flare up, a higher likelihood of illness and can threaten the lives of the occupants of the home.

Duct Cleaning

In the fall, have a licensed, bonded company come out to clean your heating and cooling ducts, especially if you have an older unit. While they’re at it, have them inspect the appliance as well. Forced air and gravity based gas furnaces have ducts which collect dust over the year. Cleaning those ducts and changing any filters before you need to fire it up for the season will keep you and the unit healthier through the winter.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector installed, especially if you use gasoline or propane run appliances. Since carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, a detector is the only way to discover the gas before people grow ill from the poisoning. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

When you check the batteries for your smoke detector, do the same for the carbon monoxide detector.

Furnace Maintenance
An important element to keeping your home both energy efficient and comfortable is to make sure your furnace or boiler is working at peak proficiency. It's a good idea to get the fixture checked out and serviced by a professional at least once a year. If your furnace is over twelve years of age, it might be time to get it replaced with a newer, more efficient model.

Older furnaces may have asbestos insulation, which means you'll need a special crew to come out and dispose of the old hardware before a new furnace can be installed. It's wise to replace these furnaces in case the seal around the asbestos has begun to break down, as that form of insulation has been linked to lung cancer and other breathing ailments in the past.

A residential gas furnace installed in 2007.
A residential gas furnace installed in 2007. | Source

Winter air is usually very dry, but when you heat it, it loses even more humidity. When people breathe in dry air, their mucus membranes tend to dry out as well. This leads to nuisances like scratchy throats and nose bleeds, but it also increases your chances of getting winter colds and flues.

There are many humidifiers on the market, including those you can incorporate into your heating system. However, less expensive ones are popular because they’re easily operated and can be stored away when they’re not needed.

You can also add humidity to the air through setting a pot of water on the stove, and letting it simmer. Just don’t let it boil away, and make sure little ones aren’t able to pull it down on themselves.

Safe Snow Removal

Some people love shoveling, others hate it, but it must be done. Removing snow as soon as you can will prevent ice from developing when it’s compacted under feet or tires.

Walkways and Driveways
If you don’t have a snow blower, be sure to be careful when shoveling.

  • Always lift with your legs instead of your back. Unless you work out regularly, you’ll still be sore the next day, but you run less risk of injury when you use proper lifting practices.
  • Take breaks when you feel you need them. Snow shoveling is hard work, and if you have a heart or breathing condition, it’s best not to overdo it. Having a clear walkway isn’t worth your life.
  • Spread rock salt or sand to prevent ice build up or provide traction.

Roof Raking
Roof rakes are usually available in the same stores that offer snow shovels and the plastic for windows. After heavy snow falls, your roof needs the same attention as the walk ways. By removing excess snow, you cut the possibility of damaging ice dams come the freeze-thaw cycle of spring.

For bigger trees and bushes, you’ll want to knock as much snow as possible from the branches. If left unchecked, the weight of snow can permanently bow branches or even kill the plant.

Through a little extra observation, effort and education, winter can be a less stressful, more enjoyable season without the potential damage that the weather it brings can cause.


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