Winterize! (before the snow falls)

My husband and I bought an 83-year-old home in the spring of 1993. It was our dream house, and everything about it looked perfect through our rose-colored first-time-homeowner glasses. But, as is too often the case, things were not as they seemed. The neighbors told us the roof of our wonderful house had not been redone for as long as they could remember. The house inspector we hired informed us the two-inch-thick insulation in the attic was less than adequate by today’s standards.

We listened somberly to our neighbors and the inspector, but the roof didn’t look that bad, so we figured we’d insulate when we had more time on our hands. We grabbed our checkbook and skipped off to the furniture store to find just the right living room sofa, confident our old roof and insulation would get us through at least one winter.

As the snow began to fly, however, our “less than adequate” insulation allowed heat to escape through the roof. The end result was ice buildup, which worked its way under the roof’s tired shingles, then re-melted.

We woke one sunny January morning to find it raining inside our bedroom. Drop after drop of water pitter-patted on our window sill, then ran down our beautifully wallpapered walls into a puddle on the floor. As I frantically lined up plastic drinking glasses on each window sill to catch the drips, I noticed gray water stains steadily spreading across our white bedroom ceiling. The living room sofa we had searched so diligently for suddenly seemed unimportant as I stood helplessly watching winter redecorate our home.

Preventive home maintenance performed before the mercury drops can keep winter from getting the best of you. Peter Schaming, president of Excelsior Home Inspection Company in Voorheesville, New York, recommends that homeowners begin winterizing their homes in September. He estimates that with proper winterizing, not only can winter damage be prevented, but up to 20 percent can be saved on home energy costs as well.

“If you add up the size of all the cracks in your home around loose windows and doors, it can be the same as having several windows open in the house all winter long,” he says.


Following are some suggested ways to make your home a fortress able to stand up to winter’s worst:


FOR YOUR HOME’S EXTERIOR 1. Make sure your roof is in good condition. Check for damaged, loose or missing shingles. Cut away tree limbs that come in contact with the roof. Remove any tree limbs that touch or nearly touch exterior wires running from your house. They could sag under the weight of snow and cause damage to the wiring.


2. Rid gutters of pine needles and leaves that have collected there. Make sure gutter downspouts are directing water away from walkways. Water running onto your walk will freeze and can cause accidents.


3. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a professional. Ask about senior citizen or veteran discounts if you qualify.


4. Stock up on sand and salt for icy driveways and walkways. Have a shovel and/or snowblower (in good working order) easily accessible.


FOR THE INTERIOR OF YOUR HOME 1. Have your heating system cleaned and inspected by a professional. An improperly operating system may emit potentially deadly carbon monoxide. When a system runs inefficiently, it can also cost more money. Ask the inspector to show you the locations of the emergency gas and/or electric shutoffs for your heating system. You will need to use them in the event of a system malfunction.


2. Be sure to know where your water main shutoff is located. You will need to close it if your pipes freeze. Don’t forget to turn off the water to your outside faucets, or those lines may also freeze.


3. Remove window screens and replace them with storm windows. Sheets of clear plastic can be used to cover windows for extra draft protection. Some are even available which shrink to fit your windows perfectly. The only tool you need for that job is a blow dryer!


4. To further keep out drafts, put weather-stripping around windows and doors.


5. Have candles, extra blankets, firewood and flashlights (with working batteries) on hand in case of a power outage. Don’t store firewood indoors for the winter, though. The creepy-crawlies living it will quickly take up residence in your nice warm home!


6. Protect the outdoor half of your permanently installed air conditioner from the elements by covering it with plastic. Remove window air conditioning units and winterize the windows that housed them.


When you’ve already spent all your EXTRA MONEY ON NEW LIVING ROOM FURNITURE — SOME TIPS:

1. To help keep away icy drafts, roll up old towels and place them at the base of doors that lead outside.


2. When you rake your lawn this fall, put the leaves in plastic garbage bags, then place the bags around your foundation to help keep the cold at bay. Bales of hay will also work if you happen to have some handy.


3. Don’t let your heat go up the chimney! Remember to close your fireplace flue after the fire goes out.


4. Make sure your homeowner’s insurance policy gives you adequate coverage in the event that winter damage does occur. Check to make sure your deductible is an amount you can afford to spend if repairs do need to be made.


5. If you spend money on nothing else, be sure to have your heating system inspected. A properly operating system could actually save you money in the long run. More importantly, it could save your life.