As winter approaches, preparations should be considered both inside and outside your Smith Mountain Lake home to protect your investment, maintain your safety, and provide comfort throughout the colder winter months.
The most obvious items to address as the winter months approach center largely around ensuring that your home remains warm. Regardless of your heat source there are preventative measures that should be taken to ensure that you remain warm and safe inside your home. Some of the most important areas to assess include:
- Furnaces – regular annual furnace inspections will help keep your furnace in good repair. Cleaning or replacing furnace filters monthly during the operating months will also keep your furnace operating efficiently.
- Oil Heaters – like furnaces, oil heaters require annual inspections and maintenance. Annual inspections should include: inspecting the chimney, cleaning the pipes to remove soot build up, replacing the air filter, checking oil pressure and cleaning the oil filter bowl. Oil supplies will need to be replenished.
- Fireplaces – periodic cleanings should be performed by a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote buildup to prevent chimney fires. It is also a good time to ensure that woodpiles are sufficiently stocked for the winter months with well-seasoned wood. Woodpiles should be located in a dry location and in an area away from structures to prevent granting wood-eating insects, such as termites, easy access to your home.
- Inspect windows and door for leaks – replacing cracked windows, or sealing air leaks around doors and windows will not only make the winter months more comfortable, but will also lower the costs of heating your home. One method of sealing leaks around windows is by using a removable caulking product which allows for easy removal and restoration of functionality for windows with the return of warmer weather in the spring.
- Evaluate smoke detectors and related safety equipment – the ending of daylight savings time is an ideal time to replace batteries in smoke detectors and any other battery-powered safety or emergency equipment. It is also a good time to evaluate existing smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers in terms of lifespan and whether they provide an adequate level of coverage. Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are generally considered to have a lifespan of 10 years, whereas carbon monoxide detectors have a lifespan generally ranging from 2 to 5 years. Beware that batteries in the carbon monoxide detectors may still function after the actual carbon monoxide sensor has ceased being operational.
Outdoor preparations should include a walk around your property with an eye for cracks in foundations, the mortar in brick structures, and caulking or weather stripping that has failed. Other things to look for include: evidence of uninvited guests in the form of rodents or birds living or nesting in unsafe or unwanted locations, exposed wood that may need some type of protective treatment applied, and items that are too close to heat sources that could become fire hazards. In addition to this general evaluation, here is a list of specific items to consider:
- Hoses/hose bibs – in regions where temperatures drop below freezing, it is important to disconnect and drain your garden hoses, and either wrap hose bibs or cover them with insulating covers to prevent freezing pipes. A quick inspection for other exposed pipes that may need insulating will prevent the headache of dealing with broken pipes later.
- Sprinkler systems – in colder climates, sprinkler systems will need to be drained to prevent water from freezing and causing cracked or broken pipes. You may be able to drain the water yourself, or you may hire a professional to winterize it by blowing the water out of your system with an air compressor.
- Roof – inspect your roof for any loose, missing, worn or damaged shingles, tiles or other roofing material and have any needed repairs made to prevent unwanted water damage.
- Clean your gutters and downspouts – after leaves and other tree debris has fallen and collected in your gutters, it will be important to clean the gutters and downspouts to prevent water from backing up and causing water damage or overflowing during winter storms.
- Clean landscaping tools – when storing your landscaping tools for winter, take the opportunity to clean them well, apply a light coat of lubricant on tools such as pruning shears to keep them operational and to extend their lifespan, and replace tools that are in poor condition so you’ll be prepared next spring when your landscaping begins to come to life once again.
- Prepare winter equipment – now is the time to test winter equipment that you may need in the coming months and make any necessary repairs ahead of time. Knowing that the snow blower or back-up generator will work and are in good repair and that you are prepared for inclement weather will provide peace of mind. It is also a good time to place this equipment along with shovels and salt in an accessible location so it is readily available when it is needed.
- Winter fertilizer – an application of winter fertilizer to lawns will promote stronger roots and help produce a healthier lawn in the spring.
- Plants – take a look at your landscaping and determine if there are plants that may be sensitive to cooler weather and require special preparation. While some plants may need to be trimmed, others may require additional composting materials around their roots to protect them during freezing temperatures, and others will need to be moved to a sheltered area or indoors. This is also a good time to lift bulbs that won’t survive the colder temperatures such as dahlias and to consider planting spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils.
Lastly, don’t forget to review or establish an emergency plan and supply kit.
Emergency plans should include:
- Designated out-of-area contact as a centralized point person – often in emergencies it is easier to reach an out-of-area contact than a local one to relay information about impacted family members
- Back-up meeting place
- Back-up child care and pet care arrangements
- Accommodations for any special needs (non-ambulatory or disabled family members, family members using oxygen tanks, etc.)
Emergency supply kits should be kept in an easily accessible location and contain:
- Non-perishable food
- Pet food
- First Aid kit
- Candles and matches/lighter
- Battery-operated radio
- Important phone numbers – relatives, utilities
- Fuel for any back-up heat sources
- Supplies for existing medical conditions
- For homes with infants, an adequate supply of diapers and infant related items