The brutal and bitterly cold winter is now upon us, but is your home prepared for the worst this season can bring? Local experts offer tips to keep your home warm and toasty this season.
It’s Christmas Eve, and you and your family are at home patiently waiting for Santa to arrive.
As you’re in the kitchen preparing dinner, you notice your home isn’t as warm as it usually is, and the thermostat confirms your suspicions. That’s when you run to the basement and find the furnace is silent.
It’s a common call for many area professionals, but it’s just one of many serious headaches and frustrations that can pop up unexpectedly this winter. The cold weather has come a little early this year, but it’s not too late to protect your home against another harsh winter.
Maintaining Your Home Exterior
When the snow falls, it might look pretty, but Bret Boyles, general sales manager at McDowell Remodeling in St. Charles, knows it can cause some serious damage to your home, especially if leaves are still hiding in your gutters.
“You have to keep your gutters clean, so when it does snow, the snow melt is leaving your home,” he says. “It’s supposed to get into your gutters, move down the downspout and away from your house. If your gutters are full of leaves, that moisture will stay trapped in your gutter because it’s stuck in those leaves, and once the snow melts, it goes places it’s not supposed to go.”
That’s when the problems start to seep in.
“It’ll get into your siding, wood or window frames and it’ll start to rot things out over time,” Boyles says. “Rotting is a big problem when people don’t keep their gutters cleaned.”
When masses of snow are stuck on the roof, constantly freezing and thawing, they form into ice dams that can jam up your gutters and keep water from draining properly.
If icicles are hanging from your gutters or eaves, it’s a good bet you have ice dams.
There are many ways to keep the gutters clear – and it’s important to do it before the snowfall. Boyles uses a leaf blower to clean his gutters. An old spatula that fits inside the gutters can also scoop out leaves, he says.
Go the extra mile, says Boyles, and apply heating tape to the gutters and downspouts. When it snows, the tape will melt the snow and ice, thus preventing an ice dam from forming.
“The heating tape runs on low voltage and transformers, just like landscape lighting,” Boyles says. “Having the heated gutters keeps the water flowing.”
Boyles warns there are two approaches to using heating tape: the cheap way and the expensive way. Either one gets the job done, but one of them is more work.
The cheap way involves manually plugging the tape system into a wall outlet. The problem with this, Boyles says, is that you’ll have to constantly monitor the gutter tape.
An easier, more efficient approach – albeit the more costly option – is heating tape that comes with a thermostat which turns on automatically when the temperature goes below 30 degrees.
Gutters aren’t the only exterior surface that needs a good check.
Windows need to be monitored, as well. This time of year, as the cold winds blow, check for air leaks, bad closures or faulty locks on the windows. Failures here can cause heat loss and reduce your home’s energy efficiency.
If you notice fog and moisture appearing inside your double-pane windows, it’s likely there’s a bad seal, says Boyles, and cold air is sneaking into your home. If this is the case, the window should be replaced.
“When a window is made, there are two sheets of glass molded together with a rubbery membrane,” he says. “They keep the glass separated and sometimes, that membrane will wear out and break due to the weather and the house shifting.”
Once the snow arrives, it’s a good idea to remove whatever falls on your window sashes.
“A lot of people let the snow sit on their windows, but as the snow melts, ice accumulates and sits on the window sash,” Boyles says.
“The bottom part of the window might get rotted out over time because of all the ice and snow that’s been sitting on it for years. If it’s a high-end window, we can just replace the sash, but if it’s a lower-end window, typically we have to replace the whole unit.”
Avoid Costly Repairs
To avoid costly furnace repairs when you least expect them, plan on getting your furnace an annual checkup, says Mark Lea, owner of Lea Heating & Air Conditioning in East Dundee.
“Every home’s heating system accumulates dust, dirt and other particulates that affect its performance and efficiency, which will cause your utility bills to go up,” Lea says. “The best time to have your furnace serviced is in early fall.”
An annual checkup includes a 22-point inspection that covers things like the fan speed, the wire connections, and the heating exchanger, which could cause a safety issue if not maintained properly.
“We’ll make sure there are no cracks in the heating exchanger, because if there are, it could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning,” he says.
Of course, there are many other ways to keep your furnace running smoothly and efficiently.
For one, Lea advises against closing off vents in unused rooms. While you might think this helps to improve heating in other parts of your home, it’s actually creating pressure on your furnace, which makes it work harder and less efficiently.
“Let’s say you have 12 registers in your home and you close six of them. The system wasn’t designed to blow through just six registers. It was designed to blow through 12 of them,” Lea says. “When you start closing registers, you increase the static pressure, and the more static pressure you have, the higher your electric bill will be.”
Simply put, your furnace works like the lungs in your body.
“Whatever you breathe in, you can exhale, but if I put a pillow over your face and block what you can breathe in, you’ll struggle breathing out,” says Lea. “That’s what happens when you close the registers in your house.”
Smart thermostats can help to take some of the pressure off your furnace, says Lea. Among other things, a smart thermostat controls how much heat circulates in your home, whether or not you’re inside.
“A smart thermostat has the ability to learn the climate patterns in your home, and it adjusts the heating and cooling according to when a home is occupied or if it’s about to be occupied,” he says. “It reduces the heating and cooling systems when no one is in the home for significant periods of time.”
In part, those systems work with geo-fencing, a technique that gauges whether you’re home based on where your cellphone is. If your phone isn’t nearby, it assumes nobody’s around and it adjusts the thermostat lower.
“Having a smart thermostat in your home can save a lot of energy,” Lea says. “A lot of people are going to the smart thermostats.”
Don’t Forget About Your Garage
As you’re getting your home prepared for winter, don’t forget about your garage door, especially since it’s helping you to get in and out of your house. Keeping your garage door in great working condition is often an overlooked, but important, element of preparing your home for winter.
The average garage door opener lasts about 12 to 15 years, and there are plenty of other working parts on your door that can wear out during that time.
To ensure everything is working the way it’s supposed to, the team at A.S.A.P. Garage Door Repair, in Huntley, offers professional inspection, lubrication and adjustment that’s needed for your garage doors and openers. It’s important to take advantage of their services now, instead of on a frigid day when other people are seeking the same services.
The first place an A.S.A.P. technician begins is with a quick inspection to make sure everything is working. This includes checking the cables that lift and lower your garage door. Over time, these cables can become worn or rusted, and the wintry conditions can increase their wear. If they do break, they can present a serious safety hazard to you and your family.
Speaking of safety, a professional review of your door also includes a look at the safety sensors, which are those “photo eyes” that sit at the bottom of your garage door track. They’ll stop the door when they sense an object, but a misalignment will keep them from operating properly, which could also pose a major safety risk.
A.S.A.P. service techs also test and balance the garage door while inspecting and replacing any damaged rollers. Maintaining these rollers can make your door run much quieter.
Weather seals on the bottom and sides of the door can lose their flexibility or degrade over time, leaving openings for unwanted critters and cold air to seep in. The bottom seal is usually replaced during a professional inspection, just to be safe.
Lubing and adjusting your garage door is generally an easy task if you’re the kind of person who wants to do things yourself. A.S.A.P. recommends lubing and adjusting your garage door at least once a year.
“Between our three salespeople, we’ve got 80 years of experience in the industry, says Aaron Poling, company president. “We’ve seen so much that we can help people make the right decisions.”