Winter is coming! To avoid broken pipes, frozen plumbing, indoor teeth chattering and atrocious gas and energy bills, do yourself a favour and winterize your home before the real cold weather arrives. There’ll be snow in the Niagara region by November or December, so inspect your fireplace, review HVAC systems, and seal doors and windows early in the fall to ensure optimal comfort this winter. Home safety during this season is focused on staying warm, ventilated, and prepared for a nasty blizzard or two.
Get your house ready for cold weather by doing a few routine checks and making repairs where necessary. You’ll need to check the roof, the windows, the heating appliances, the fireplace, and keep an eye on your driveway and sidewalks. The sooner you start the winterization process, the better, because it will be much more difficult with snow on the ground, ice under your feet and a cold wind blowing!
There are a few reasons to winterize your home, the foremost being that it will help your household stay warm for less money. Keeping ice and snow at bay is also a good way to make sure nobody slips and falls, which is more and more important as we age! A clear driveway and sidewalk make for easy exits during those frosty, dark mornings of Canadian winter, as well as a safe place to park when you’re finished work and the sun has started back down again. Stay safe and cozy this winter by checking the condition of your home and prepping for the worst the season can throw at you.
Start with the roof! Before your home gets covered in snow, take a look at the condition of your roof shingles and check the seals around your chimney and vent stacks. If there are missing or damaged shingles and seals, you can bet that’s exactly where the cold air will get in. Weak spots on the roof become worse over the course of the winter, as snow enters the cracks and melts, eventually freezing again and causing more damage. What looks like a displaced shingle this autumn could be a leak in the spring—it’s best to make repairs now, before the bad weather comes.
If checking your roof after snowfall, try to remove any icicles you find, and check for ice dams. Ice dams are a ridge of ice that runs along the roof and stops water from draining away. You might be able to chip ice away with a pick or a shovel or melt it with a special heating cord. If you don’t feel comfortable working on an icy roof, that’s okay! A professional ice dam remover can take care of it for you. If you aren’t sure who to call, contact a local roofing company for advice.
Do you feel a gust of air coming into the house from around the windows or doors? That’s not going to be pleasant come winter. Seek out any leaks and seal them up ASAP as part of your home winter preparations. You can do it yourself with some caulking, if necessary, and if there are alarmingly big holes around a window or door frame (or in the floor, ceiling, or walls, for that matter) you can use spray foam to fill it up quickly and easily.
Is your water heater working efficiently? How about the furnace? If you know your way around these appliances, go ahead and check that everything is as it should be. If not, schedule a check and cleaning with HVAC pros who will know exactly where to look to make sure there are no fire hazards or other safety issues. A deep clean will also make your heater more effective while using less energy. Afterwards, you’ll need to keep an eye on your furnace filters and change them when they turn brown or black, as this maintains good air quality.
In fact, it’s a good idea just to go ahead and replace the batteries in these alarms at the same time every year. Your smoke alarms should ideally be placed on each level of the house, as should your carbon monoxide alarms. Take care not to rely on only one smoke alarm in or near the kitchen, since they are also meant to alert you to smoke from other fires (electrical, overturned candles, etc.). Carbon monoxide alarms will alert you to the unhealthy buildup of poisonous CO from gas-burning appliances, cigarette smoke and poor ventilation.
Once the batteries are replaced, follow the instructions of each alarm to test whether it is working. It’s advisable to replace any smoke detectors over 10 years old, and any carbon monoxide detectors over five years old.
Though it’s uncommon for city-dwellers to find themselves without electricity for long periods of time in the winter, it’s not impossible. Remember what Texans went through in the winter of 2021? As for those living in the countryside, the odds are more likely. In either case, a home generator can help keep your household snug and liveable until the power lines are working again.
If you’re thinking that you can still heat your home without electricity (since your furnace runs on gas), think again! Modern gas furnaces throughout Canada actually require electricity as well as gas to function, which means that when the power’s out, so is your heating. To prepare for an emergency in the middle of winter, consider a generator or a stockpile of wood for the fireplace (if you have one). A generator is especially important if you rely on electrical medical equipment like ventilators or power wheelchairs.
Southern Ontario winters are some of the mildest in the country, but they aren’t mild enough to keep your unprotected pipes from freezing when the temperature drops below zero! It’s important to keep the heating on throughout the cold season to avoid this very problem. Burst plumbing pipes can also be avoided with proper insulation, which you can find at any building supply store. Find the appropriate size and simply slip these pipe coverings over any exposed pipes in your home. In times of immensely cold weather, you can leave the faucet trickling to prevent ice from forming within the pipes.
Outdoor faucets should be disconnected from hoses and sprinklers and completely drained. Drain the hose and put it away for the season, and shut the water valve to the outdoor faucet. Open the faucet to allow any perspiration or water drops from freezing within the structure, and leave it open until in use again in spring or summer. This is advisable even with frost-free outdoor faucets. If yours has a backflow preventer, disconnect it to let the water drain out fully.
You’ve probably already packed an emergency kit for your car, but it’s a good idea to have one in the house, too. Include items like flashlights, lighters, matches, granola bars, dried fruit, peanut butter, canned juice, crackers, and canned foods that are palatable cold (tuna, ham, fruit, etc.). If your family members, including pets, take any daily medications, keep an extra month or so on-hand for emergencies.
Extra coats, snow pants and clean, dry layers of clothing can also be necessary, since winter clothing tends to come back from the outdoors fairly wet and cold. If your home features a working wood fireplace, keep some firewood handy as well to keep yourself warm. This is how people used to cook and heat their homes every day, and it’s as good an option as ever!
It’s important to prepare your home for the winter, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself this season! There are plenty of winter festivities planned in the Niagara region this year to keep you and your schedule full of holiday spirit, so if you find yourself in need of a good hot caffeinated drink while out shopping, might we suggest visiting one of our favourite coffee shops in St. Catharines?
As always, for your local real estate needs, get in touch with the McGarr Realty team in St. Catharines at 905-687-9229, or the Niagara-on-the-Lake team at 905-468-9229. You can also send us a message HERE.
Enjoy the season, and stay warm!