December Checklist: Winter preparedness

November 30, 2011

Cold weather and the rush of holiday activities limit the time available for maintenance chores in December. So it makes sense to focus on things that need to be attended to now or those that are at least quick.

Disconnect hoses

Most exterior faucets have built-in protection against freezing in cold weather, but they work only if no hose is connected and thus no water is trapped. So no matter how busy you are this month, invest a few minutes in unscrewing hoses or checking to make sure they are off. If you need to use a hose frequently in the winter and find all the connecting and disconnecting troublesome, especially when your fingers are freezing, attach a quick-connect fitting between the tap and hose. The fitting can be left in place all year. For an even better solution, read on.

Avoid having to disconnect hoses

For even better freeze protection of outdoor faucets, replace standard frost-protected faucets with ones that have a built-in pressure-relief valve. This type works even if you leave a hose connected because when ice forms and expands, the valve opens and relieves the pressure. Woodford Manufacturing Co. makes several models and also offers rebuild kits that retrofit its standard models. The part number is RK-PRV-*, with the asterisk referring to the valve stem length. Determine that by measuring the thickness of the wall at a window or door and add any amount that the existing valve stem projects.

Retailers in the Washington area include Ferguson Enterprises and Thos. Somerville . Some Ace Hardware and True Value stores can also help.

Watch the snow

Even a relatively light snowstorm can help you pinpoint maintenance issues you might otherwise never notice. Go out periodically after a snowfall and watch how the snow melts.


Silver Spring residents clean out their driveway after a snow fall. Icicles on a home when it's still freezing outside suggest warm air is escaping into the attic. (Michael S. Williamson)

If you see vertical strips of bare roofing between thin lines of snow, the attic insulation is probably inadequate. The snow is persisting longest where rafters lie underneath because the wood in them adds insulation.

If you see icicles forming rapidly even when the weather isn’t warming enough to melt snow, warm air is getting into the attic. The insulation could be too thin, or air leaks could need sealing. For a great guide on how to do that, go to the federal Energy Star program’s Web site, and type “DIY guide to sealing” into the search box.

Combat dry air

If your skin becomes dry and itchy and you suffer frequent nosebleeds every December, the air inside your home could be too dry, and you might benefit by installing a humidifier. Check first with a hygrometer, a small measuring device that’s often combined with a dial or digital thermometer. Hardware stores sell them starting at around $10. The ideal reading is around 40 to 45 percent. A reading below 30 percent means the air is dry enough to possibly warrant using a humidifier. Check with your doctor first, though, if you or someone in your family suffers from asthma. Even if asthma isn’t an issue, make sure it doesn’t become one by cleaning the equipment regularly, every three days if possible. Change water in the pan every day.

Combat moist air

Although many people associate cold weather with dry indoor air, you might have the opposite problem. If water frequently condenses on windows or leaves walls moist enough to allow mildew to grow, you need to reduce moisture in the air. Before you invest in a dehumidifier, consider simpler steps. If you have a vent-free fireplace that burns natural gas or propane, stop using it or at least run it for shorter periods. Run kitchen or bath fans a little longer. If that produces no change, consider upgrading them to ones that exhaust air better.

If you shop for a new bathroom fan, look at models that suit the size of your room. Fans with an Energy Star rating generally are more effective, as well as more energy-efficient, than other models. With kitchen fans, one thing to watch out for is whether the fan actually exhausts air to the outdoors or simply moves it through a filter. A filter can extract grease droplets and smoke smells but doesn’t take out moisture.

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