Cold Weather Tips for Winter

Jim Tice
Written on January 10, 2017

As winter is coming closer, now is a good time to review the things we need to do to prepare our homes and cars for the harsh winter conditions.  Here is a quick checklist to help you make sure you are prepared:

Cold Weather Home Tips

Protect Your Pipes

  • Leave faucets dripping.
  • Drain water from outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems to keep those pipes from freezing.
  • Disconnect and store outdoor hoses; cover outdoor faucets with foam insulators.
  • Protect water pipes that run through unheated areas of your home with insulation, such as the attic, basement, or garage.
  • Know where your water shutoff valve is so that you can turn off the water in case of an emergency. Typically it’s located in the basement or buried near the road.

Check the Heat

  • Check your furnace by turning on the heat and the blower to be sure they’re operating as they should.
  • Change your furnace filter at the start of the season and then every two to four months. Filters get dirty much more quickly if your home is dusty or if you have furry or feathery pets. Clogged or dirty filters are less efficient, which means your home might not warm up properly.
  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one. Programming it to be cooler at night and when you’re not at home will save you money, and you can program it to be warmer for when you return or get up on cold winter mornings.

Prevent Ice Dams

  • Clean out gutters and downspouts to keep water flowing during the winter. This can be a huge cause of ice dams.
  • Seal places that may allow warm air to leak from your home to your attic, such as around vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches, and light fixtures.
  • Be sure soffit vents, which are along the eaves of the house and allow air to flow into the attic, are clear.

Clean and Store Lawn Equipment

  • Empty all of the fuel. Gas can degrade all the time, and the ethanol in E10 gas can damage fuel lines and other components while sitting unused. Try to use up most of the fuel during the last mowing of the season. You can remove what’s left with a meat baster, then run the engines until they stop. Check with your local waste management or public works department for guidance on how to dispose of the fuel.
  • Clean the machine of oil and yard debris, and sharpen the blades.
  • Store them for winter in a basement, garage, or covered storage shed where they’re safe from the weather.

Inspect the Fireplace and Chimney

  • A professional chimney sweep can clean out soot and other debris that could catch fire. Keep your home’s warm air from escaping out the chimney when you’re not using it by keeping the flue closed all the way. You shouldn’t be able to feel any cold air coming down the chimney.
  • You can also install glass fireplace doors or a chimney inflatable that blocks cold air from coming down the chimney and keeps in warm air.

Seal Windows and Doors

  • Gaps around windows and doors can make it tough to keep your house warm in winter. Caulk around windows and install weather stripping around doors as needed. This minor and inexpensive task can help you save on heating costs.
  • If your windows and doors are older, they may be inefficient single-pane windows or uninsulated doors. Consider upgrading to double- or even triple-pane windows and insulated doors and garage doors to boost the energy efficiency of your home.
  • Another option is to add storm windows and doors. Remove, wash and store screens for the spring before you have them installed.

Stock Up on Cold-weather Essentials

When winter storms hit, they often come with power outages. To ensure you and your family are prepared for anything Mother Nature throws at you this winter, you will want to have an emergency kit ready. Explore this one for ideas of what to put in it, and consider having these cold-weather specific items on hand as well:

  • A working fully charged fire extinguisher.
  • An alternative heat source such as a generator, wood-burning stove, or fireplace.
  • Sand, ice melt, and a shovel if where you live is prone to ice and snow (avoid using kitty litter, as it doesn’t provide good traction and can make a mess).

Cold Weather Car Tips

Check your tires and tire pressure

  • Underinflated tires close up the tread and significantly decrease traction.  If your tires are worn this is a good time to consider replacement.  Be sure your best pair of tires is on your driving wheels.
  • While on the subject of tires and drive wheels, it’s a good idea to know how your car handles and stops in icy conditions.  Look for an ice-covered deserted parking or road where you can practice emergency stops and turns.  A front wheel drive acts much different than a rear wheel drive one when it loses traction.  Know what it will do and how react.
  • If you have all-wheel or four-wheel drive, make sure they are functioning properly

Check your battery

  • Car batteries usually last three to five years.  If it’s getting time for a new one fall is the best time to replace it because batteries are often on sale.
  • If your battery is not that old it is a good idea to check it over and make sure the terminals aren’t corroded.   Corrosion, a white, powdery substance around the terminals, can interfere with the contact and prevent your car from starting.  Clean it off with baking soda and a toothbrush.  Better yet, remove the battery clamps and lightly sand or clean them and the battery terminals with a wire brush.

Check your antifreeze

  • Your radiator should have a mix of 50% water and 50% antifreeze.  If the percentage of water is too high you risk having your engine freeze.  Check the level of your coolant.  If it’s too low you risk having your engine overheat and blow a gasket.  That’s an expensive repair.

Keep your tank full

  • A half-empty fuel tank is half air that contains water vapor.  Cold weather can cause condensation and since the water is heavier than gasoline it will fall to the bottom of your tank where it can freeze and block the flow of gas to your engine.   The emptier it gets the more water can form.  Besides, if you are stranded somewhere due to the weather you will want to be sure you have enough fuel to keep your engine running and the interior warm until help arrives.

Check your heater and defrosting units

  • Just be sure they are working.  If they aren’t, now is the time for repairs.  You need to be able to clear your windshield.

Check your wiper blades and washer fluid

  • Remember all that salty sludge that gets thrown on your windshield in bad weather?  Is there anything more annoying than worn out wiper blades when that happens?  Now is the time to be sure your blades are in good shape and that there is plenty of fluid to wash it away.                                         

Keep an emergency kit in your car.

  • It should include extra boots and gloves, a shovel, a blanket, sand (don’t use kitty litter – it doesn’t help traction), and perhaps flares.   You never know when you can be stranded, and these things will help you survive until help arrives.  A cell phone and charger would also be a good idea.