Winterizing Your Home on a Budget: When to DIY and When to Call in a Pro
A guest blog post from our friends at Quicken Loans.
It’s been unseasonably warm in certain parts of the country, but those of us living in northern climates know we can be chilled to the bone with the snap of a finger. Start preparing your home for winter now while you can still feel your fingers.
The home requires a certain amount of maintenance in order to deal with Old Man Winter, but some of these tasks might require a professional. You’re on a budget. When can you do it yourself and when should you call for backup? Let’s figure it out together.
I believe in layers. When the temperature gets down to single digits, I just throw on more layers and brave whatever January in Michigan can throw at me.
Insulation is like layers for your home. It serves as an extra buffer and prevents the chilly air that gets past your walls from seeping through into the rest of the house. In cold climates, we take this very seriously.
So, what can you do yourself to prevent cold air from circulating and what’s better left to the pros?
When it comes to keeping cold air out, sometimes it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps. Before installing insulation, there are some less drastic changes you can make.
Outlet seals and door sweeps will prevent air from getting in through little crevices. Preventing this seepage will allow you to spend less energy heating your home.
Around windows, homeowners can do a smoke test. Lighting a match and watching the direction of the smoke will help determine if there’s a leak. If there is one, you can try to plug it with weather stripping and caulk. If you’re comfortable removing the window frame, you can attempt to create a better seal using spray foam.
If you want to go a little deeper and create better insulation in your floor, you can cut pieces of rigid insulation to fit in between the floor joists. When installing any insulation, it’s important to know what type is appropriate for your climate.
Call a Pro
If you want to go further than this with insulation, another place where cold air often gets in is a poorly insulated attic. Since the top of your house has many nooks and crannies, some things can’t be covered with rigid insulation and require blown-in insulation.
Blown-in insulation should be installed by a professional, as it requires a machine and special safety precautions to avoid health hazards during the installation process.
It’s extremely important that your furnace is in good working condition for obvious reasons. You can handle basic maintenance on your own, but there are certain situations that should be left to the professionals.
Changing the filter is a basic furnace maintenance task. Older filters merely kept large things from getting into the furnace and clogging it up. Today, filters can also catch allergens and other harmful particles to keep them from coming through your vents.
How often you need to replace this filter depends on the type you have. The replacement times are anywhere between one to three months.
Call a Pro
It’s generally recommended to have a professional look at your furnace once a year. They can help you identify issues before they become major problems because you don’t want your furnace to stop working on a day when there’s a wind chill of -3°F.
One common problem that’s especially dangerous is a cracked heat exchanger. When the heat exchanger cracks, your furnace can leak carbon monoxide, which is toxic and can lead to death if the level gets too high. A professional will be able to identify cracks.
Another thing that can affect your heating is your ducts. If they aren’t properly cleaned, allergens and other harmful things can get in there and spread throughout the house when you turn the heat on. Checking your duct systems can be especially important if you notice you’re getting sick more often or you or someone in your family has asthma. The spreading of particles through your duct system can worsen these conditions.
Another thing you can do to make sure your home is safe for your family is radon testing. Radon is a naturally occurring gas and if your home contains more than a safe level, it can lead to cancer.
The good news is you can test for radon easily and inexpensively with a testing kit. You put the testing kit at least 20 inches above the floor in the lowest level of your home that you frequently use. (In other words, if you never go down to the basement, don’t put it there.) The amount of time to leave it there depends on the test kit, but it could range from two to 90 days. After the collection period, you reseal the test and send it to the lab specified on the package.
If your test comes back with high radon levels, you should contact a contractor who specializes in radon mitigation to help you get the levels back under control.
Protect Your Pipes
Up until now, I’ve discussed what you can do on your own and when it’s time to call in a pro. Let’s be honest, though. You never want to have to call in a pro to clean up a flooded basement. This next section is all about preventing that from happening.
Crank up the Heat (At Least a Little)
Your basement floods when the water in your pipes freezes and they crack. In order to prevent this from happening, you should keep your furnace on even when you leave the house for any length of time over the winter. It doesn’t have to be kept very high, just high enough that you don’t come home to disaster.
If you’re leaving for an extended period and you don’t want to deal with any heating bills, you can always drain the water from your pipes and turn the water back on when you return.
Don’t Forget the Outdoors
It’s easy to think about the pipes inside the house, but don’t forget about your outdoor water spigots where you keep your hoses.
If left unprotected, the water in your outdoor spigot can freeze and cause problems throughout your home. You can prevent this by putting a foam protector sold at any hardware store over the spigot. These work by creating an air pocket around the faucet to protect it from the harsh elements.
These tips should help you start to prepare your home for the big chill. That said, maybe you have other insights from personal experience. Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments.