Winter, cold temps offer opportunities to learn about, improve homes’ efficiency

Posted by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Monday, December 16th, 2013 at 3:36pm.

Winter came to Colorado on time – if not a little early – this year and it came on hard. And while folks are still digging out from the snow and thawing from the frigid temperatures, they can take advantage of the weather to learn things about their homes that only snow and cold temperatures can reveal, according to MSN Real Estate.

For instance, does the snow melt from the roof rapidly and icicles form quickly without a thaw? That means heat is escaping from the house through the roof and the owners should consider adding more attic insulation, including to the attic floor, making sure it is distributed evenly with no gaps. Also, the vapor barrier side should face downward toward the living space and the insulation should be dry.

Here are many other chores that need doing after a big snow and/or freeze that also provide an excuse to get outside for some exercise, according to MSN Real Estate:

• Clear walkways with a snow shovel and sprinkle sand or salt on them for traction. (Be careful with the salt, though — it can leach into flower beds and is hard on pets' feet.)
• Check the roof for ice dams and break them up to release water if necessary. Frozen dams along the eaves cause melted snow to puddle above and possibly leak through the roof.
• Knock snow from tree branches to keep them from breaking under the weight.
• Consider sweeping snow from roofs that have shallow angles or little support (sheds, carports, lean-tos) if it can be done safely.

As a temporary measure to get through a cold winter with pipes intact, block north-facing crawl-space vents with a piece of plywood.

If an unusual cold snap is predicted, those living in older, not-so-well-insulated homes should leave the sink and bathtub faucets on at a slow trickle to keep pipes from freezing. This is especially important if the heat is turned off in the house for any period, such as during the day when the house is empty.

Furnace upkeep

For those with oil heat, save fuel and repair costs by cleaning some parts of the oil burner: turn off power to the system, lift the blower cover and then dust the blades of the blower. Lubricate the motor by pouring oil in the oil cups. It’s even possible to clean the oil strainer and replace the filter without hiring someone; just check the owner's manual to get details on do-it-yourself maintenance for an oil burner.

Forced-air heating ducts need checked once a year for leaks and seal with (yes) duct tape. Routinely vacuum dust from duct grilles, and have the entire system professionally cleaned annually, or as recommended by the heating system's maintenance manual.

Pesky pests

Don’t get soft if mice or rats have invaded a home, as they can do damage that ranges from leaving a mess of droppings to chewing a home's wires, which can burn a house down. First, discern whether the rodents are rats or mice: rats make a lot of noise and leave half-inch droppings. Next, buy a dozen appropriately sized traps, bait half of them (peanut butter works well and is cheap) and place them without setting them. After the rodents have taken the first bait, rebait and set all the traps in one fell swoop. Wear gloves to dispose of the rodents, trap and all. (Do not try to reuse traps or you'll have a harder time going through with the chore.) Mice and rats breed like ... well, rabbits, so keep repeating this cycle until you see no new evidence of these unwelcome, hazardous houseguests.

In case of emergency

Take time to evaluate the home's emergency kit, making sure it includes a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit, blankets, several gallons of fresh water, tools for shutting off gas and water lines, candles and matches, flashlights and batteries. Check the batteries as they can drain with time, even if not used. In places with extremely cold winters, as Colorado is experiencing now, make sure to have a back-up heat supply, whether it’s a wood stove and a well-stocked woodshed, or a back-up generator. Campers can consider keeping their camping supplies near their emergency stash — camp stoves, waterproof matches and tarps are all items that could come in handy should disaster strike.

Preparing for spring projects

Winter is the perfect time of year to itemize what changes folks would like to make in their house because they’re cooped up in it more than usual, MSN Real estate reports.

Take a day to sit and make a list of preferred changes, from new throw rugs to a complete remodel. If a remodeling job is on the list and the homeowners want to begin as soon as the weather warms, they should start talking to contractors this month. New home owners should live in it for a full year before undertaking a major remodel to become intimate with it, watching how it interacts with its environment through spring, summer, fall and winter. This will help them decide what they truly need — perhaps keeping them from putting a sunroom in a spot that gets sun only two months out of the year.


Tom Kalinski 
Owner and Founder
RE/MAX of Boulder

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