A surprising amount of damage can result from a homeowner’s failure to winterize their home, especially in cold climates like Washington DC which can experience below-freezing temperatures. If you’ve never seen freeze-related damage, trust that you never want to! Here are the important steps you can take to winterize your DC home.
Your HVAC system should be serviced each fall and summer. It is important to include an AC check in the fall servicing since you will not be able to operate the AC system during frigid winter and spring months. A check of your heating system each fall will ensure a safe and effective heating system for your family in the winter and early spring.
- Have a certified pro perform a furnace inspection and duct cleaning before you switch the heat on for the season;
- Clean your wall, floor and ceiling vent covers to prevent dust and debris from traveling through your home;
- Keep 3 months’ supply of furnace filters and change them as instructed by the product manufacturer;
- Replace your old thermostat with an programmable model to save on energy costs. Choose a model that allows you to operate the system from your phone if you are away from home for extended periods of time;
- Bleed radiator valves.
Fireplace and Chimney
Late summer and early fall are the best times of year to get an annual chimney and fireplace inspection. You’ll want to make sure the chimney is capped with a cage to prevent bird, animal and debris from lodging inside. Stock up on fuel and firewood for cold months and store them at least 500 feet from the structure in a dry place Arrange a professional chimney sweep inspection and make repairs as recommended.
Doors and Windows
When you winterize your DC home, be sure to address air infiltration from doors and windows.
- Apply weather stripping to doors where necessary to block cold drafts;
- .Caulk windows to seal out frigid air;
- Cover basement windows and install storm windows;
- Prime and paint exposed wood on the exterior of the home to prevent weather damage.
A little prevention goes a long way towards extended the life of your roof, one of the most expensive components of your home.
- In early fall, inspect roof, gutters & downspouts for gaps, peeling, deterioration of rubber roofs, missing or loose shingles, flashing or tiles;
- Add additional insulation to your attic if needed, and be sure to apply it evenly;
- Clean gutters and flush downspouts with a strong stream of water;
- Install leaf guards to keep your gutters free of clogs;
- Install downspout extensions to direct water away from the home.
Tools and Equipment
When you need winter tools or supplies, you usually need them immediately and you want them to be in good working order. Take the time in late summer to prep and you won’t find yourself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation during winter months.
- Sharpen ice choppers;
- Buy a stock of ice-melt or sand for steps, driveway and walkways. These often sell out quickly in the days before a predicted winter storm, so it’s better to build a supply in early fall;
- If your area experiences frequent or severe power outages, consider purchasing a portable generator to power a few lights and refrigerator. Be sure you have the space to safely operate a generator according to manufacturer’s safety instructions;
- Clean, dry and store your summer gardening equipment to prevent rust and deterioration;
- Replace work equipment if necessary;
- Service your snowblower;
- Drain gas from lawnmowers and store in dry place.
When you winterize your DC home, don’t forget about the key portion that isn’t visible! Your home’s foundation is its most important component and one of the most expensive to repair if significant damage is done. Prevent deterioration with good annual maintenance and be sure to check the landscaping checklist on this page for key measures that relate to your home’s foundation.
- In late summer or early fall, rake material and vegetation away from the foundation and inspect for cracks, gaps and deterioration or damage;
- If any of the above is found, contact a structural engineer for an inspection and hire a certified professional to make recommended foundation repairs to prevent damage to the rest of the home;
- Seal exterior window sills and surrounding areas to prevent leakage, exposure damage, dry rot and pest activity;
- Seal, repair and secure all crawlspace entrances.
A critical step in winterizing your home is evaluation of your safety systems and devices.
- Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors. If there is any doubt that they are in perfect working order, replace them with new models;
- Replace batteries whether needed or not;
- Install carbon monoxide detectors near furnaces and/or water heaters if none exist;
- Install moisture detectors near water heaters
- Replace fire extinguishers as needed (lifespan approx. 10 years);
- Change flashlight batteries and test the devices;
- Check door and window locks to make sure they’re in good working order. Replace or repair as needed. It is a good idea to change door locks at least every five years, or as needed due to damage or wear;
- Check security alarm systems, including door and window contacts, service box and wiring. Have your security company perform an annual review.
Plumbing is extremely vulnerable to temperature and can cause extensive damage to your home if not properly winterized.
- Seal exposed areas around interior and exterior pipes;
- Locate your main water shutoff value in case of emergency and leave a note on the refrigerator clearly stating its location;
- Drain all garden hoses and remove from exterior spigots. Shut off water to the spigots from the main shutoff and open all exterior valves to drain. Leave open until the 3rd consecutive week in spring with temperatures above 68 degrees;
- Insulate exposed plumbing pipes;
- Drain air conditioner pipes and turn off shut-off valve, seal areas around the unit if leaving installed. Seal faceplate for the season to prevent infiltration of air, insects and other pests;
- Always leave heat on in the winter, even if you’re away, to protect your plumbing. Keep at a minimum of 60 degrees.
Home owners are often surprised to learn that their landscaping is to blame for roof, foundation and flooding issues. Here’s what you can do each year to ensure that your landscaping is not adversely affecting your home.
- Trim tree branches close to the home and electrical wires. Check with a pro regarding timing so as not to damage the trees;
- Repair and seal driveways, patios and decks;
- Have a landscape grading expert evaluate the grading of your front and rear yards. This is typically handled by a civil engineer. An evaluation should cost a few hundred dollars and could save you many thousands. An effective grading plan diverts water away from your home to an approved storm drain system. If your yards aren’t correctly graded, water from storms and irrigation can run back toward the home and cause damage to the foundation wall, or saturate the soil next to the foundation causing hydrostatic pressure against the wall, resulting in foundation cracks, structural damage and soil erosion. An improperly graded lot can also cause issues for your neighbors, for which you could be held liable. Late summer is a perfect time of year to make adjustments.
Compile an emergency kit and keep it in an accessible area of your home. The kit should include a box of waterproof matches, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, battery-operated radio, extra blankets, canned and pet food, first aid kit, water testing kit, utility co. phone numbers, and emergency numbers. Review and practice your evacuation and safety plan in case of fire or natural disaster.