Be prepared by winterizing your home.
In lieu of the light snowfall we’ve had this year, it’s easy to think the worst is over; but it is imperative that you don’t let your guard down and pass up the opportunities to winterize your home during the coldest months. Frozen pipes and ice dams, among other things, such as severe drafts or even ill-maintained heating supplies, could lead to thousands of dollars in repairs or even wasted energy. In this entry I will go over some tips and tricks to help keep your home, as well as your wallet, secure.
One culprit for those high energy bills in the winter is one that can’t be seen, drafts. Identifying drafts isn’t always simple, but there are a few different ways to find all the faulty spots in your home that are letting all your warm air out.
The first is something referred to as the incense test. It’s very simple, light an incense stick, and while carefully avoiding any flammable materials, make your way around your home, carefully watching the thin trail of smoke. If there is a draft nearby, you should be able to recognize the difference in how the smoke moves. Another method of draft-checking is to stand on the inside of your home with a candle, as someone on the opposite side tries to blow air in using something along the lines of a hair dryer, or, if available, a leaf blower. If there is any area where air could escape, you should see the candle light be shook by the passage of air.
Remember to check anywhere two materials meet. Such as corners around chimneys, where pipes and wires exit the walls, and along the foundation. Albeit tedious, being thorough is the only guarantee that you’ll be able to find every seam, gap, crack, or crevice where a vacuum can be created, and warm air can be lost.
Once located, this problem can be remediated in a variety of ways. Each method will have its time and place, so discretion is advised. There’s no need to go overboard when a simple draft snake can keep the air from escaping your home. Applying a window insulation kit, coupled with the use of draft snakes, can have a meaningful impact on your energy consumption this year. For a more long term solution, consider caulking, weather stripping windows and doors, or even perhaps replacing your current windows with storm windows; which excel at reducing drafts and can help a household increase its energy efficiency. There’s never a poor time to perform this maintenance, as these actions can also benefit you in the warmer seasons by keeping the cool air inside.
Keeping the warm air inside will only help so much, though. Maintaining your heating unit is imperative in the winter, as the heavy use can leave it looking worse for wear. The filter in your heating unit should be replaced monthly, at the very least. A dirty filter will greatly hinder your heaters ability to properly function, impairing its range of heat and potentially causing a fire under constant use, and duress. Permanent filters are another option that, although expensive up front, will help you save greatly in the long run.
An electrostatic filter can trap up to 88% of airborne pollen, dust, dirt, bacteria, mold, and even viruses. We at SERVPRO® use HEPA filters in the field, which will filter at least 99.97% of airborne particles. This is your best bet when it comes to air filtration. Beware of products labeled or marketed as “HEPA-like” as they will surely suffer in quality, and when it comes to the wellbeing of those in your home, no expenses should be spared.
However, not all methods of retaining heat require home improvement. Ceiling fans may be regarded as a tool for keeping your house cool, but many ceiling fans have a switch that will reverse the rotation of the fan blades. While a counter-clockwise rotation will push cool air downwards, reversing it to a clockwise rotation can help push warm air that would pool at the ceiling and circulate it. This simple action can help cut energy costs by as much as 1/10th.
Insulation is an invaluable tool in combatting the harsh winter weather. Adding additional insulation between your walls, and making sure your attic floor and basement ceiling are well covered will go far in keeping everything and everyone comfortable without relying on the excessive use of heating instruments. If time is money then every moment that you can turn off your heater is money you’ll be saving. With added insulation, the warm air will remain trapped inside, keeping families happy and costs down.
The duct work in your home is another culprit of lost heat in the winter. Studies show, that anywhere form 10 – 30% of heated air can escape through your air ducts. Having a professional come to your home and properly seal your air ducts could save your household upwards of 150$ every year. Couple this with the aforementioned methods of preserving heat and you are well on your way to having a truly winter-proof home.
One of the two greatest obstacles that people face in these cold months is also one of the most financially and physically damaging: Frozen pipes. As water turns to ice, it expands, which leads to numerous problems, including the bursting of water lines within the home. A simple way of ensuring that you’re safe from being the victim of the weather is to insulate your pipes. You can get pre-slit pipe foam at most hardware stores. Cut it to size and fasten in place with duct tape. Ideally, you should choose the insulation with the highest R-value practical, which is a measure of its heat-blocking power. Pipe insulation is often R-3 or, for batt styles that you wrap around, a stronger R-7.
It is imperative to halt the freezing of pipes before they burst, as a burst pipe will do much more to damage your home then the elements themselves. The ensuing water leak could lead to structural damage of your home’s infrastructure, as well as the microbial growth of mold in the affected area. These problems alone could leave you with a hefty bill for remediation.
Along with freezing pipes, another problem for homeowners in the winter are ice dams. Ice dams occur when the snow and ice melting off your roof is trapped inside by the small “Ice Dam” that forms on the edge of the roof, over the gutters. The water that is trapped behind the ice dam will most likely travel downwards into your home. This can create many problems as the draining water will not only affect the insulation in the attic, and the roof itself, but may also become trapped in the cavities of your walls. This could cause irreparable damage to your home if not swiftly remediated, and is one of the most common causes for SERVPRO workers to be dispatched during this season.
One things that can be done to prevent ice dams is to ensure that as little heat as possible escapes through your roof. Keeping your roof cold will keep the snow from melting as easily, helping to curb the buildup of trapped water. If this isn’t an option, another way to stop the forming of ice dams is to use a snow rake. A snow rake is an aluminum scraper attached to a telescoping pole. Which can be used to remove heavy snow after snowfall. If you can remove the snow before it has a chance to melt, it will have no opportunity to reform into an ice dam.
A more passive way to handle ice dams is with heat cables. Heat cables are resilient wires that you can run in a zigzag pattern across the bottom of your roof, where ice dams would normally form. Take caution, though, as you will need to redirect the flow of water. You should run the heat cable down the gutter and into a GFCI outlet, so as to ensure the gutter is not clogged with ice.
These tasks can seem like an insurmountable financial burden, but there are programs and means to assist you in making your home more hospitable. Federal tax credits can be implemented to help offset the cost of these renovations, upwards of 30% with a standard maximum of 1500$. A list of available local incentives by state can be found at the following url: http://www.dsireusa.org.
We here at SERVPRO hope that this article will help you keep the cold out while we all wait for spring. It may take time, money, and work, but protecting your home is a project that will surely see a return of investment in time.