Keeping your home warm and cozy all winter long
By Nikki Luttmann, Interior Designer
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I love the changing of the leaves, the deep reds and golds that brighten up our landscape, and the thought of spending time indoors beside a warm fire. This year, it seems that the signs are pointing to a cold and rainy winter season. Berries are heavy on the trees, the squirrels are extra busy stashing nuts and seeds, and it sounds like La Nina might be showing her face this winter, meaning frigid temperatures for us in the Pacific Northwest.
When it comes to home maintenance, we can take a lesson from nature. Preparedness is the key to staying warm, cozy and worry-free all winter long. The following checklist is a good refresher for those of you who are long-time Washington residents, and a must-do for those of you who are new to the area. Though I’m an interior designer, I’ve seen my fair share of damage caused by winter cold and storms. I’m often brought in after the fact to help restore the home to what it was, but often the damage could have been prevented with a little prep and some elbow grease (yours or a professional’s) before the onset of winter.
1. If you have a crawl space, be sure to close your vents. This prevents your plumbing and other utilities under the house from freezing. It’s also a good idea to double check any insulation you might have in your crawlspace and attic. Pests have been known to gnaw away at insulating material around pipes and openings, creating a space where cold air can get in and do damage.
2. Check your gutters. Having your gutters cleaned not only keeps water flowing away from the house, where it should, but also keeps ice and other material from clogging them further, creating a hazard that can damage your roof.
3. Have a professional check your heating system, especially if you are dependent in any way on wood heat for the winter, this is a must. Creosote can build up in your flue, causing a possible fire hazard that many of us are unaware of.
4. Have your exterior plumbing drained and turned off. Exterior plumbing issues, such as frozen pipes, can cause interior and exterior damage when the weather gets very cold, due to burst pipes when the ice expands inside.
5. If you leave for the winter, do not turn off your heat completely. I realize that many people do this, but you are much better off turning the heat to 55 degrees and leaving it there for the winter. Freezing temperatures inside a home can damage drywall, flooring, cabinetry, plumbing, even the framing of your home. Leaving the heat on at a low temperature keeps your finishes from suffering damage and makes for a happy homeowner in the spring when you return!
6. If you live in a location where power goes out frequently, it is a good idea to invest in a generator. This ensures a safe and warm winter should the power go out for an extended time.
7. Have your septic tank pumped before winter sets in. Not only is it very difficult to locate and open a septic tank when it is under snow, but a full septic tank is also more likely to back up in early spring when the ground is saturated and more difficult to percolate the discharge into the drain field.
8. Check your windows and doors for a good seal. Poor seals on doors and windows are a leading cause of utility bill creepage in the winter months. After all, it’s expensive to heat the outdoors!
9. If you have a basement with a sump-pump, do make sure the pump is in working order. There is nothing worse than coming down the stairs to your basement and finding it flooded. I’ve re-done countless basements where the water table is high after a failed sump-pump led to a flood situation. These are never fun!
10. Finally, check the trees around your home. Trees can do major damage if they are not in good health. Have dead branches removed, as well as any trees that are deemed a hazard. I can only imagine the devastation and terror that would accompany a tree coming down through someone’s home. While this is not always preventable, proper maintenance at least limits the possibility of this tragedy occurring.
While the above list may not be the most fun aspect of home ownership, these are certainly necessary items to cross off your to-do list. While I love working with people on remodeling their homes, I’d like it to be on their terms, not because of an insurance claim or the wrath of Old Man Winter!