Last year at this time we were days away from having 23 inches of snow dumped on us in one of the earliest nor'easters on record. Although it may have been fun for the kids, many homeowners were scrambling to do the last minute winter preparations. Be prepared for the unexpected this year, and start your readiness projects early.
First things first, clean up the outside. Do a final mow, rake the leaves and fertilize the lawn. Remove patio furniture from the lawn and deck. Snow piled atop furniture can lead to breakage or the sun umbrella can become a missile in a wind storm – better to put it away then risk the damage it may cause. While we're wandering the yard, let's stop and prune the shrubs and trees, clean up the flower beds and remove the old mulch. Some folks leave the mulch on through the winter and start over again in the spring, but new mulch now will help the soil stay at a more consistent temperature, and encourage earthworm activity. Mulch can be applied before or after the ground is frozen. Some of the things that can be used as mulch include chopped leaves, wood shavings, pine needles, straw, and high quality compost.
Make sure to shut off the outside water faucets and allow them to drip dry so as to avoid frozen pipes in the middle of February. Now is also the time to blow out the irrigation systems. You should call in a professional so your pipes won't freeze.
Late fall is also a good time to clean the gutters. Make sure to look for gaps in the gutters – since you're on the roof anyway. Gaps should be repaired so as to avoid water dripping through and freezing causing ice patches underfoot.
Now that the outside is ready, let's move inside. With the energy costs expected to skyrocket this year, it would be a wise investment to replace broken doors or insulate walls that are especially drafty. Insulated curtains or storm windows are a great solution for drafts, placing plastic sheeting over the windows works equally well to quell the wind.
You can save up to 20 percent on heating bills by adding insulation to attics or under floors. There are several kinds, ranging from batting or blanket insulation to loose fill or foams that can be sprayed in place. Your local DIY home goods store will be able to recommend a product that will work for you.
An insulation jacket on your water heater also goes a long way towards preserving heat and energy, and while you are downstairs, now is a good time to call in the heating company to do the annual tune up on the furnace and fill the oil tank – make sure to clean out the air filter as well. Nothing worse than going into the first frigid night and discovering the oil tank is empty!
The energy department advises caulking under the doors and installing foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls to further protect the home from drafts, and of course, an energy audit is always a great idea.
Before you settle in for a long winter's nap, call in the chimney sweep to remove the creosote from the chimney, and add a cap to the top so small critters like birds and chipmunks don't decide to make your chimney their home. One final note – make sure to keep the flue closed unless you have a fire roaring.
Now, all that is left to do is light the fire, brew the tea, find a good book and pray for a week of snow days when the next unexpected nor'easter blows through town.