For 43-year-old Giuia Abano Grady, who lives in Gorham, Maine, and raises pigs and chickens and will soon raise cows, the work needed to prepare her 250-year-old farmhouse for the winter isn’t as easy as just disconnecting a garden hose.
Besides turning off all the exterior water lines and draining her garden’s irrigation system, she seals the doors and windows in her basement with plastic sheeting. Outside doors in the 1730’s-era home get wrapped with insulation and plastic, and her basement gets several space heaters set on low to prevent pipes from freezing. Exterior water lines must be wrapped in heat tape and even her barn’s water supply needs a heating line to keep it from icing up, she says.
The preparations were needed, as in January of 2015 nearly 8 feet of snow fell in a little over a month. Thanks to her and her husband’s efforts, her only crisis last winter was a frozen pipe. “An hour with a hair dryer and it was all fixed,” she says.
Fortunately for the rest of us, winter preparations may be as simple as installing an insulating cover to protect your outside faucets and prevent a burst pipe and flooding. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore Old Man Winter’s freezing breath.
Indeed, the National Weather Service is predicting one of the worst snowstorms in years could be hitting the Northeast later this week, with up to two feet of snow expected between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston from mid-Friday into Sunday, along with coastal flooding. Already a blizzard watch is in effect with heavy snow and wind gusts of 40 mph and temperatures in West Virginia, and the Washington, D.C. region, dropping into the 20s Fahrenheit.
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Last year’s winter season saw the second-coldest winter on record for the Northeast region, and for eight individual states — New York, Pennsylvania and all six New England states.
Here are some helpful tips on preparing your home for winter from real-estate broker Re/Max of New Jersey and utilities the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Weather Service.
- Repair all broken windows, exterior doors and walls and tightly close doors and windows to the outside. Make sure the outside doors and walls are well insulated. Seal all air leaks in crawl spaces and basements. If your vents won’t close, cover them from the inside with insulation, cardboard, plastic or newspaper, WSSC says.
- Your attic should be properly insulated and ventilated to circulate the heat throughout the attic. This prevents ice from building up in certain areas and preventing major damage to your roof, Re/Max of New Jersey says.
- Check your roof. Small leaks can turn into bigger leaks if snow sits on your roof…and then melts. Getting your roof coated before the winter can help to prevent leaks from trickling into your home and hoping the leak doesn’t spring up where you house valuable electronics. In addition, clean your home’s gutters as they are its first line of defense against water damage.
- Homes with flat roofs are more vulnerable to having snow collect on the roof. Have a good roofer on call that is able to come out and remove large amounts of snow before it turns to ice or your roof buckles under its weight. Be careful on ladders when removing snow and have a second person hold the ladder if it’s more than two stories. It’s worth paying the $100 to $300 costs to remove snow, rather than pay the costs of a collapsed roof, which could cost thousands of dollars.
- To help prevent the possibility of a burst pipe inside your home, install a pipe insulation sleeve to protect exposed pipes inside your home. Cover all parts of the pipes — even the joints — and seal them with duct tape. This will help keep your home energy efficient and helps reduce your chances of a pipe bursting and flooding your home. If a pipe does freeze, open the cold and/or hot water faucet nearest the frozen pipe, WSSC says. This will relieve the pressure and reduce the chance of breakage. Take a tip from Giuia Abano Grady and use a hand-held dryer if you attempt to thaw out the pipe yourself. Otherwise call a licensed plumber.
- If you have a fireplace, check inside for cracks, build up and remove old ashes. Also, look outside and to ensure there is no space between the chimney and the exterior wall and that there are no loose bricks. Also the damper, which regulates the flow of air through the chimney, should be able to open and closes easily, Re/Max says.
- According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one out of every six fires in the home is a result of malfunctioning or incorrectly used heating equipment and half of those fires occur during the winter months of December, January and February. As such, keep anything that could burn at least 3 feet away from a heating source like a space heater or a fireplace. Only one space heater should be plugged into a single electrical outlet at a time, the USFA says. Never use a propane-powered heater indoors unless it’s specifically designed for that purpose with an oxygen monitor that shuts off if high carbon monoxide levels are detected.
- Arm yourself with plenty of rock salt, de-icer, and shovels to remove snow and ice from the outside of your home. Some cities and towns assess fines to homeowners who don’t remove snow from around their property within a certain amount of time after a heavy snowfall, Re/Max says. Also, remove snow in front of homes where the elderly or disabled reside. You might just get a basket of cookies this winter in return or even satisfaction by doing the right thing.