The snowy, windy winters around Chicago can do some real damage to an unprepared home. Winterize your home carefully, though, and you'll stay cozy all season without having to worry about broken pipes, roof leaks and other wintertime disasters.
Get Your Heating System Ready
Scheduling professional maintenance should be your first step in preparing your home's heating system for winter. During an annual tune-up, an HVAC professional will thoroughly check the system for issues that could impair its safety or efficiency. This includes cleaning the fan assembly, lubricating the motor, and checking the heat exchanger for cracks.
Before the technician arrives, check the system's air filter and, if you find it covered with a layer of dust, replace it with a clean filter.
Clean the air conditioner's outdoor condensing unit by using a stiff brush to remove dirt and debris from the exterior fins. Spray down the fins from the inside out using a garden hose.
Check indoor air registers to make sure none are blocked by furniture, drapes or other objects. Blocked registers can't distribute air efficiently and can cause a pressure imbalance in the system. Finally, if you use propane or oil from a storage tank, have the tank filled.
Make sure the fireplace chimney isn't blocked by birds' nests or other debris. Test the damper to be sure it can open and close fully and can remain locked in each position. Test the chimney draft by burning a small amount of newspaper in the fireplace. If the smoke isn't pulled up the chimney, consult a professional. Ideally, the fireplace should be professionally inspected and cleaned annually.
Protect the Plumbing
Exposed water pipes running through the attic, basement or crawl space, or exterior walls should be insulated to prevent freezing. Wrap the pipes with electrical heating tape when possible, then apply foam pipe insulation.
To get outdoor faucets, also called hose bibs, ready for winter, turn off the water supply to the outdoor faucets from inside the house. Remove garden hoses and put them in storage. Finally, turn each faucet on to drain the line.
Not only does optimizing insulation help winterize your home, but certain types of insulation also help keep you cooler in summer. Electrical outlets and light switch plates on exterior walls can let warm air escape in winter and let heat inside in the summer. To prevent these spots from leaking, install foam sealing gaskets. Just remove the outlet or plate cover, lay the gasket in place, and replace the cover.
Improve water heater efficiency by installing an insulating blanket. These are available for both electric and fuel-burning water heaters at most home improvement stores.
Have a fireplace you rarely use? Cut a swath of fiberglass insulation large enough to cover the fireplace's glass doors. Place this behind the doors to stop cold air blowing down the chimney.
Winterize Doors and Windows
Weatherstripping and caulking leaks around windows and exterior doors is one of the most effective ways to winterize your home. Even if you installed weatherstripping previously, some forms such as felt and foam deteriorate relatively quickly. Caulk can crack and lose its effectiveness. Old weatherproofing should be inspected for damage and replaced if necessary.
Cracks around window and door frames can be sealed with an acrylic latex caulk or other all-purpose caulk. Weatherstripping is applied to the moveable parts of windows and doors, and you'll want different types for different parts. V-strip, also called tension-seal, works well on the sides of a double-hung or sliding windows, as well as on the tops and sides of doors. For the insides of door frames and the top and bottom of window sashes, try foam tape.
Inspect the Roof
An insufficiently winterized roof and gutters can let rain or snow melt leak into your home. If you can reach the roof, look for missing or damaged shingles. These should be replaced. Check that the metal flashing around the chimney and vent stacks is secure. Clean gutters to prevent the weight of wet leaves from pulling the gutters down and allow for drainage.
If you're ready to winterize your home and could use a pro's help, visit Comfort24-7.com to find a provider in the Chicago area or anywhere around Northwest Indiana or Southwest Michigan.