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A winter survival guide: How to prepare your home for the cold

  • Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

    Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

    Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)
  • Take steps to make sure your house is ready for winter to survive the cold weather without burst pipes and other damage. (Photo Illustration Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Here’s how to get through this winter without burst pipes, broken furnaces, heat loss, ice dams, house fires, flooded basements, unwanted critters, huge energy bills, cold feet and other problems that can plague the frigid-weather homeowner.

Chimney

∎ Have it inspected by a professional chimney inspector every year.

∎ Have it cleaned every year or two, or more if you have a lot of fires or tend to burn softer woods.

∎ A chimney cap with a rain hood and screen will minimize rain damage and keep critters out.

Fireplace

∎ Stock up on clean, dry firewood. A fireplace store can recommend someone to deliver and stack it for you. Store it away from your house to keep mice and other vermin at a distance.

∎ Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. When you’re using it, turn down the thermostat and open a window near the fireplace to prevent warm air from being pulled from other parts of the house.

∎ Install glass doors on the fireplace to keep warm air from being drawn up the chimney.

∎ If you use the fireplace frequently, a fireplace insert improves efficiency by blowing heat into the room and limiting heat loss up the chimney.

Cold out, heat in

∎ Reducing air leaks and properly insulating walls, crawl spaces and floors can cut energy bills by up to 10 percent. Seal leaky ducts with metal-backed tape or aerosol sealant. Consider having your insulation updated to save money, improve comfort and lower the risk of ice dams.

∎ Set your thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when you’re home; lower it when you’re sleeping or away from home for more than a few hours. Use a programmable thermostat to make the switches automatic.

∎ On sunny days, open curtains and blinds to let the sun’s heat in. Close them at night to trap the warmth inside.

∎ Close or install storm windows, which reduce drafts and frost formation and can cut heat loss through the window by 25 to 50 percent. For a cheaper alternative, cover windows with plastic.

∎ Schedule a home energy audit through your energy company. Through Xcel Energy, for example, a professional will inspect your home and identify ways you can save on energy, including windows, insulation, and heating and cooling systems. Cost: $30 to $100.

Toasty rooms

∎ Run your ceiling fan at low speed in reverse direction (clockwise) so the blades drive warm air down into the room.

Heating

∎ Change your furnace filters per the manufacturer recommendations. Most homes are built with a 1-inch filter which should be refreshed every month.

∎ Clean your furnace before the first cold spell. If your furnace isn’t too dirty, you can save money by vacuuming the blades yourself.

∎ Get acquainted with your house’s ductwork. Most homes are equipped with dampers, allowing you to change the volume of heat delivered upstairs, downstairs and all rooms in-between.

Plumbing

∎ Disconnect your garden hose, shut off the water valve and drain the spigot — even if you have a frost-free faucet.

∎ Drain the sediment from your water heater. This should be done once or twice every year.

Pests

∎ Repair any exterior damage that might invite pests. Carpenter ants like leaky pipes, warped storm windows and tattered roof shingles, whereas frayed screens and chewed-through door sweeps attract rodents.

∎ Clear your garage of mice-magnets, especially if you have an attached garage. This isn’t the place to stash woodpiles and unsealed birdseed.

Flooding

∎ Prevent a flooded basement by caulking any gaps in your sidewalks, especially those closest to the house.

Gutters

∎ Clean debris from gutters and downspouts. Open any roof drains or vents.

Roof

∎ Check the caulking around vents and chimneys and other roof protrusions to make sure the seal is tight.

∎ If you tend to have problems with snow and ice backup, consider installing electrical heat tapes to keep melted snow flowing off of the roof.

∎ If you use an ice rake to remove snow from your roof to avoid ice dams, make sure you rake all the way to the roof’s peak, or dams could form above the rake line.

• • •

Sources: Crystal Manik, senior marketing business consultant for Xcel Energy; Eric Siedow, technician for Chimney Guys; Rodney Pierce, salesperson for Genz-Ryan Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning; Colleen Cannon, staff entomologist for Plunkett’s Pest Control; Bill Yares, president of Twin Cities Home Evaluations; Stacy Reese, manager of Walker Roofing.

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