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Guide to Preparing Your Home for Cold Weather

Jeremy Geller Sherwood Inspection Services, LLC Leave a Comment

Brrr!  Cold weather!

Here are some tips for safety and comfort during the winter months.  Most of these tips are directed at those living in detached houses, but the interior items apply to condos and apartments as well. Take a walk around your home to remind yourself of what needs doing to prevent damage or mishaps in freezing temperatures. 

Protect Your Pipes

If there are outside hose bibs, disconnect the hoses and extend them so that they drain, and so that trapped water won’t freeze and burst them. Find the interior shut-offs for the hose bibs and turn them off. To avoid forgetting this, immediately go outside and turn the exterior hose bibs on. This way, if there is any water trapped in the pipe it can drain out before it freezes which can burst the pipe.

Consider Your Little Friends

bird taking a bath

Get a heater for the birdbath.  The birdies and other critters need water to drink through the winter, and birds need to bathe year-round. They have the extra benefit of being fun to watch!

Heating Devices

Oil-fired boilers and furnaces should be tuned up every year for safety and efficiency. Likewise with gas once the appliance is a few years old.  If you have a furnace, replace the air filter every two or three months for a one-inch thick filter or twice a year for a four-inch filter. In addition, make sure there is a clear path to the fill pipe if you use oil heat.

Vacuum around radiators and baseboard heaters.  Excess dust and debris impede efficiency, and the dust can circulate in the convection that the heaters create. 

If you use a fireplace or stove, have it inspected by a professional to assure it is drafting properly, that there is not combustible creosote accumulation, to ensure that there aren’t gaps through which flame, heat, or embers can reach flammable framing, etc. Timely attention from a hearth professional can be a lifesaver. 

It’s going to be crucial to take the time to learn how to operate the fireplace damper.  If you do not know what it is or how it works, you run the risk of having a closed damper, which can cause damaging smoke to fill a home.  A damper left open when the fireplace is not in use draws heat from the home. Be aware that most simple living room fireplaces are ornamental and meant only for occasional use. They send your heating dollars up the chimney.

Electrical Equipment

If you have an electric baseboard or wall heaters, be aware that the heaters can get very hot.  Be sure that electrical cords, drapes, bed linens, and stored items are not in contact with them. This is a prevalent fire risk.

If you use electric space heaters, be sure they are built with a device that shuts them off if they tip.  Be sure they are also not in contact with anything. It will be important to check and make sure the power cords are exposed and visible because they can overheat otherwise. If it is necessary to use an extension cord, be sure it is rated for at least the amperage that the heater draws.  If you are not sure then do not use an extension cord.

Check your Alarms

Be sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of the home and in or near every bedroom. If they are the type that uses conventional batteries, change them annually at “Fall Back,” the transition to standard time in the Fall. Replace alarms per manufacturer’s recommendations, typically every five to ten years.

Seal your Windows

If you have older windows you might find leaky gaps between sashes or drafts coming from the counterweight pulleys.  A little flexible, reusable putty is useful for temporarily reducing those drafts. If your home has old-school triple-track storm windows, it’s time to raise the screen and lower the glass for some extra insulation.

Humidity and Mold Risks


Winter brings dry skin and static electricity. Don’t be tempted to over-humidify.  Over-humidification will cause condensation on window frames, which will eventually harbor mold.  You should stay in the ballpark of 20-40% percent humidity level depending on the exterior temperature and how well your windows insulate against the cold.

Gutter Downspouts

Check that gutter downspouts will not deposit water on walkways or driveways where it might freeze and create a slip risk. Slip inexpensive extensions on downspouts (if necessary) to divert water safely away.

Extra Tips

  • Never use a portable combustion heater indoors. Period. The risk of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide is real.
  • If you have direct-venting gas heaters, be sure the vents don’t get buried in snow.

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