Is Your Home Ready For Winter?

Winter’s breath is just around the corner, so make sure your house and yard is ready with this handy checklist from Consumer Reports. Hose turned off? Programmable thermostat settings reviewed? Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers checked? Go through the list and get prepared.

Live from the labs: Fall into winter checklist [Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog]

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  1. Slave For Turtles says:

    “Turn off power to outdoor compressor on your central AC. Rodents are attracted to residual heat generated by the power running through the compressor, even when isn’t running.”

    That’s new to me. Do you do this via the breaker box?

    • MonkeyMonk says:

      This tip is new to me even if the result isn’t.

      Last spring we had our central AC serviced and there was what looked like the remains of an exploded rodent all over the capacitor. The technician was really surprised that the system was still operating at all.

      He replaced the capacitor and recommend filling the openings with a loose fill of steel wool to discourage rodents from entering the AC. Turning off the compressor might help to but like “Slave for Turtles” I’m not sure where I would do that.

    • dpeters11 says:

      I’ve always heard that you should keep power on, but that it’s a good idea to put a piece of plywood on top for snow (but not to cover the whole thing and restrict air flow.)

    • mac-phisto says:

      there’s usually a shut-off panel near the unit. you should be able to cut off power at the breaker as well, though.

    • Opdelt says:

      I’m a new homeowner, and I never heard this one either. I’d assume it’s as simple as killing power to the AC via the breaker.

    • Necoras says:

      My unit has a breaker switch at the outside unit, in addition to one on the main breaker. That’s likely your best bet.

    • nova3930 says:

      I feel the need to point out for those who may not know, this doesn’t apply if you use a central heat pump for your heating needs, which is fairly common in the southern areas of the US…

    • thekevinmonster says:

      You not only want to turn it off to avoid rodents, but you also want to turn it off to prevent you from accidentally turning it on in February and damaging the compressor.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Since my AC and heating system are on the same breaker, this will not be possible for me.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Anyone have any suggestions for a good blanket that can be put over a cage or pen that pets won’t destroy or eat?

  3. mac-phisto says:

    also – RE: central air – if your heat doesn’t come thru the same ducts as your AC, you might want to close the vents in each room. this can be done easily w/ a step ladder & a screw driver (sometimes you need a hex driver). closing the vents will reduce drafts & should reduce your energy consumption.

    • scoosdad says:

      Yup, and I have several rooms in my house that I don’t heat during the winter, yet there are a couple of return air vents in those rooms. I have those more or less permanently blocked up so my hot air system isn’t drawing cold air back into it as returns from those rooms.

      I do have many other return air vents in the other rooms that stay open, though, so I’ve got more than enough return air in the system.

      Also, putting vinyl replacement windows in my 20 year old house this spring was the best thing I’ve ever done. Here in the cold northeast I’ve barely noticed my heat running this last month or so and I’m looking forward to a very warm and snuggly winter. Not to mention how quiet the house has suddenly become, despite being near a busy city street.

      • mac-phisto says:

        wish i had funds for new windows. maybe next year. my house is 100 years old (this year!) & i swear the windows are at least that old.

        shrink wrap is the best i can do for now.

    • ARP says:

      I usually close the vents entirely in a room we don’t use often. I also close a few vents in the upstairs and open a few vents downstairs.

  4. JMP says:

    Turn off power to outdoor compressor on your central AC. Rodents are attracted to residual heat generated by the power running through the compressor, even when isn’t running.”

    There is no power to the compressor when it isn’t running. Power to the compressor comes from a contactor that is disengaged unless the thermostat is calling for it to run. There is also no heat generated without current flow.

  5. tbax929 says:

    I live in Arizona. If by winter, you mean 70 degree temps instead of 110 degree temps, sure I’m ready!

  6. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    but if i move piles of wood and debris away from the house to prevent rodents from nesting, i’ll have to buy cat toys instead.

  7. Hoss says:

    * Close any air intake ducts near the ceiling, and
    * turn ceiling fans on reverse.

    Both help reuse heat that has risen.

  8. radish01001 says:

    I recently moved into an apartment with vaulted ceilings. While they look great, they definitely let much of the heat escape on the cold days. The master bedroom has a sliding glass door (no windows, just the door) that is single paine and seemingly acts as a cold conductor when the temperature drops, thus making the room frigid. Does anyone have any suggestions for keeping as much heat in as possible? (Short of buying a space heater) I was thinking about purchasing insulated curtains for the door but I don’t know how effective that would actually be.

    • MercuryPDX says:

      Insulated Thermal Curtains/drapes.

    • lockdog says:

      that window shrink wrap is fantastic stuff. Just let it sit unstretched for a couple of days before you slowly shrink it with a hair dryer. Insulated curtains are great too. Also, check around the perimeter of the door. The glass can be letting cold in (okay, conducting heat away), but I bet a lot of the cold you feel is air coming in around the frame. Try replacing the weather stipping on the door too if possible.

      • econobiker says:

        The window shrink wrap is sold in various sizes. There should be a kit for a sliding door or extra large window. Often you can buy those big window kits very cheaply in the spring for use on several smaller windows the next winter.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      also look around the edges of the sliding door and in between the panels to see if all the gaps are meeting up when the door is closed. if there’s junk in the sliding door track that puts it out of alignment, you could have a 6 foot tall 1/4″ gap that lets a LOT of air pass.

    • mac-phisto says:

      actually, any curtains will help. i have a sheen & canvas curtain on my sliding door/window & let me tell you – it’s hella colder behind the curtain than in front of it.

      also, seconded on the shrink wrap stuff. that stuff does wonders for keeping heat in. you’ll lose access to the door until spring, though.

    • theora55 says:

      get bubblewrap. Use clear plastic tape to attach the bubble wrap to the sliding glass door frame, bubbleside to glass. Then add the insulated curtains. Bubblewrap lets light in, and provides a decent airspace. The curtains add more dead air space. Curtains that touch the floor are a bit better.

    • Bohemian says:

      Insulated curtains make a huge difference. If the windows face east, south or west you can gain daylight heat through the window and close the insulated drapes in the afternoon/evening to trap that heat in. The best insulated drapes are the ones we made. I have one patio set that are just velvet drapes from Target that I sewed coat wool to the back of. The other set is faux suede upholstery fabric with brocade upholstery fabric on the back. That cheap polarfleece the chain fabric stores sells works great to line drapes or make an extra insulating drape to drop at night to keep heat in.

    • tbax929 says:

      Don’t let the folks on House Hunters know that. They always seem to want places with vaulted ceilings.

      And granite countertops.

      And stainless steel appliances.

      And hardwood floors!

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Sounds like insulation is your problem, and possible the location of heat registers is not conducive to heating your home evenly.

      Since it’s an apartment, you may have no control – but I would talk to the landlord about the attic insulation, i.e. if it exists and if it’s sufficient.

  9. momtimestwo says:

    They forgot the part where you take out your Snuggie!

  10. fatediesel says:

    I’ve been meaning to clean my gutters for weeks. I suppose I’ll finally have to do it this weekend because the snow is coming soon.

  11. econobiker says:

    Don’t forget to insulate that attic door or drop down ladder. There are kits to make a box for over a drop down attic ladder or you can fabricate your own out of rigid pink/blue insulation foam if you are handy with a cutter knife and foil tape.

    Also:
    Insulating hot water pipes and hot water heaters found in unheated spaces (garage and large crawlspace) were the best bang for the buck and winter comfort for me. Saved on my bills for water and electricity (or gas) even though I am a renter. And it saves the world in a small way as the people who rented the places after I moved would unknowingly use less water and energy.

  12. Julia789 says:

    Don’t forget if you go away for the holidays, and the temps will be near freezing, leave your heat on low, just a bit, to keep your pipes from freezing and bursting. (Our condos have a by-law that states we can never let our heat get below 58º for this reason, even if the unit is vacant.)

    Some people suggest letting the tap drip very slowly as well, on nights it is going to freeze. I have heard varied opinions on this though? Thoughts?

    • selkie says:

      Probably has something to do with being in the South and pipes that are not buried deep and/or insulated poorly where they’re near the surface.

      I grew up in part of the Midwest that would routinely get below 0F in the winter and never heard of the lets the faucet drip to keep the pipes from freezing concept until I moved to Tennessee where you typically didn’t get much weather blow 25F, even during allegedly cold part of winter.

      • Julia789 says:

        I think you are on to something there – the comment about taps dripping being helpful in the south. I grew up in New England, and never heard of letting the taps drip.

        Then I moved to Texas for a few years, and whenever it froze all the apartment complexes would have signs warning residents to turn the tap on a drip “FREEZE WARNING! LET TAP DRIP!”

        Now I’m back in New England and for years again have not heard people discussing letting taps drip, save for one family we know that lives in a very old house with old plumbing.

        I would guess you are right, houses up north may be built with freezing temperatures in mind. Maybe pipes up here are more commonly insulated or built on interior walls when possible?

        As mentioned above though, pipes still freeze, especially way up north where it drops below zero. I would be it’s worse on older houses, too.

    • Slave For Turtles says:

      At the very least, open the doors on the cupboards under your sinks. That’s supposed to help keep them from freezing. As for dripping, that’s especially helpful if you have any plumbing along exterior walls in old houses. I’ve had relatives in Michigan have those pipes freeze, and they’re most certainly not on vacation.

  13. michelelyl says:

    Don’t forget to close your crawlspace vents and insulate! Mulch your trees & overwinter plants, powerwash your walkway and patio, and CHECK the wiring in your electric blankets.

  14. FrankReality says:

    A few other things, since we’ve already gotten 4 inches of snow. From these things, you can tell I live in the country in the frozen hinterland.

    If you use propane, check your gas lines for leaks. Usually your supplier will do this – all you have to do is schedule it. It’s also not hard to do yourself if you’re reasonably handy.

    If you have cracks in your cement driveway or sidewalks, clean them out and caulk them to prevent water from freezing in the cracks.

    In my climate, the compact flourescent lights on the outside of the house by the door get replaced with incandescents – these are short-cycle lights with motion detectors and the flourescents don’t deliver adequate light fast enough when it’s 20 to 30 below.

    Plug in the dog’s water dish heater.

    Pick up all the outside stuff, drain hoses etc. and store. Hell hath no fury like a woman whose garden gnome got decapitated by a snowblower.

    If you have any latex-based stuff like caulk or paint stored in an unheated space, bring it in where it is safe from freezing. Oil based stuff can usually stay outside.

    If you have an emergency generator and live in a rural area subject to heavy snow and vicious winds, make sure it’s fueled and ready to go.

    Stock up on candles, batteries and other such power outage staples and fill up your kerosene lamps so they are ready to go.

    Place your snow shovels, sand and ice-melt where you expect to need them.

    Check storm windows, repair as needed and close them.

    One thing that I’ve used in the past is a clear, removable sealant/caulk to seal drafts in windows. For leaky windows that can remain closed until spring, this works pretty well.