It’s been a long, hot summer, but fall is definitely in full swing, which means winter is approaching quick on its heels. While Southern Californians might not experience the seasons like those in other parts of the country, there’s a perceptible change in the air we all recognize as one season moving into another. And although our climate is temperate, once we sense the upcoming 60-degree chill, Southern California residents should consider preparing their homes for temperature dips, occasional rain, and the intermittent morning frost.
The fact is that wherever you live, winterizing your home is a good investment of time, which can save your household money each year on heating costs, and expensive future fixes. Plus, like with all things home-related, maintenance costs are generally lower when homeowners proactively prepare their home for winter weather instead of waiting until repairs require professional intervention.
Here’s how to winterize a Southern California home:
Inspect your furnace: Test your furnace by turning the thermostat to heat to 80 degrees. If the furnace turns on and warm air begins to blow, all is well on that front. At any rate, look for any signs of damage and wear and replace the air filter. Air filters in heating systems should be removed and cleaned at the start of each winter to keep the system running efficiently. If you use fiberglass filters, try applying a little furniture spray to prevent dust buildup on the filter.
Clear any obstacles from heating vents and check ducting in your attic or crawlspace for leaks while the furnace is running and consider scheduling a professional furnace evaluation and tune-up. A professional might find issues you didn’t know to look for and ensure your furnace is running at optimum capacity. Take it from us, you’d much rather how a professional do a preventive house call then an intervention/emergency one.
Check all other air ducts: Find exposed ducts wherever they may be (in the attic or crawlspaces) and repair all areas where pipes are pinched and restricting the flow of heated air into the house. Fix gaps with metal-backed tape, which is longer lasting and more durable than duct tape.
Ducts also should be vacuumed at least once every two years to clear out hair, dust and other debris that can clog the ducts and the air.
Seal window and doors: Check the places where windows and doors transition to materials like wood, brick, and other leading-to-outside surfaces. Unsealed spots can allow water and air into the house, increasing your energy bills and causing possible damage to floors, walls, etc. Door sweeps, expanding foam, and caulking will all help seal leaks. Tension seal and magnetic weatherstripping works well for double-hung windows, and self-adhesive V-strip weatherstripping works for siding windows (apply to the side of a clean, dry sash or window jamb). If you are weatherstripping your doors, nighttime is the ideal time to do it because you can better check for leaking air by shining a flashlight in from the outside – however this trick calls for two people. If this seems like a lot of work, consider that if you have several tiny cracks and crevices around your windows and doors, sealing them can save you up to 20% in energy expenses. Also, keep in mind that according to EarthWorks Group, the average American home has leaks equivalent to a nine-square-foot hole.
Prepare your fireplace: Chimneys should be inspected before using them each season. Check that the chimney is clear of debris, bird nests, or other obstructions. Make sure the chimney will draw up the fire and smoke properly by taking several sheets of newspaper and rolling them up, setting the fireplace damper to open, and lighting the newspaper in the fireplace. Ideally, the smoke will rise up the chimney, but if it doesn’t, chances are you have an obstruction you didn’t find upon first inspection. In that case, you may need to call a professional in to clean the chimney. If all is clear, you may want to purchase a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen to keep out foreign objects, rain, and other materials that can clog the space.
Finally, remove soot buildup from wood burning fireplaces, and inspect all connectors in gas fireplaces. Inspect the fire brick in the fireplace, and if you see any open mortar joints, repair them immediately as neglecting to do so could result in a fire behind your fireplace. And as always, keep your chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use to keep out the cold air.
Insulate: Experts will tell you that regardless of climate, homeowners need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in the attic. Because most ceiling joists are 11 inches maximum, if can see the ceiling joists in your attic, you don’t have enough insulation. Also be sure to insulate your hot water heater with a cozy to ensure the heater takes less time and energy to stay hot. To eliminate air leakage through outlets, use outlet or insulation gaskets. Install by turning off the electricity, removing the faceplate, and pressing the perforated gasket over the outlet. Re-install the faceplate and you’re good. Buy UL-listed gaskets made from fire-retardant foam for best results.
Check smoke/carbon dioxide alarms: Fires or carbon monoxide poisoning can occur more often during cooler months because of increased furnace usage. Be sure to check the operation of your smoke/CO detectors by applying a small amount of smoke to the sensors. Also replace batteries and if your detectors are more than 10 years old, it’s advisable to replace them, too.
Reverse ceiling fans: Possibly the easiest winterizing tip is to adjust your ceiling fan to rotate clockwise so rising warm air is pushed down. This one may not be as necessary for Southern Californians who face about three minutes of winter weather, but for our central coast and northern neighbors? You might want to give this a try.
Clean rain gutters: Remove leaves and debris, then flush your gutters with water. This will help prevent clogged drains and excess water that could get backed up and enter the house, or pool in areas and cause wood rot and structural damage. Use a garden hose to rinse the gutters and while up at gutter-height, inspect flashing around pipes and vents.
Inspect the roof: After you’ve cleaned your gutters, check the roof for and replace any missing or damaged shingles. Take a close look at the flashing around chimneys and other projections on your roof, which can be the source of leaks.
Prepare the hot tub and pool: Luckily, given our mild year-round climate, hot tubs and pools can stay in operation even during the winter. If you do decide to close either for a month of two, remove all equipment/accessories like ladders, and skimmer baskets and drain the water from pumps, filters, and heaters. Vacuum, brush and skim the pool and scoop out all debris. Then, check the PH levels and chemistry balance of your water. Make necessary adjustments according to your owner’s manual or pool/hot tub dealer’s recommendations. Follow up with a chlorine shock to remove any bacteria and remaining impurities. If you’re covering your pool and hot tub, make sure the cover fits tightly and is hole- and gap-free. If you have a lot of leaves around your water features, consider using a leaf net. Lock the lights and jet features. When you re-open the pool and spa, balance the PH a second time and sanitize the water before using either.
Adjust the irrigation system: Even if temperatures do not drop below freezing here during the winter, it’s a good idea for homeowners to reduce watering times and frequency during cooler temperatures. That’s because most plants and grasses adapt to cooler temperatures and shorter days by slowing growth, or going dormant. Cut back on watering automatically by turning off the controller or timer on automatic irrigation systems so the valves will not turn on. Remember that turning the controller off keeps your programming, but unplugging or disconnecting power will cause all your information to be lost (so don’t do that). Turn off the main water valve to shut the flow of water to the irrigation system. It’s also not a bad idea to insulate aboveground pipes, and valves. (Many home supply stores sell foam-insulating tape and tubes that are perfect for this purpose). Considering installing a rain/freeze sensor that will connect to your irrigation controllers and override watering if it detects rain.
Prepare your lawn: Warm-climate grass, Bermudagrass, goes dormant in the winter months, so one expert tip is to overseed it with annual ryegrass, which grows and stays green during Southern California winters, then dies as it gets warmer out – just in time for Bermudagrass to turn green again. For general lawn care, apply a fall fertilizer to your lawn to encourage deep root growth during cooler months, and if you want, also apply an herbicide to prevent weeds. Continue to mow as needed and water deeply – just not as often.
Mulch and prune: Prune back tree branches before they go dormant, and apply a mulch mix around plants and trees to retain moisture and protects plants’ bases.
Trim trees: Overhanging trees can be a pain because they drop debris on your roof, scrape shingles, promote mildew growth, and, cause damage during windy conditions. For safety and for tall trees, it’s a good idea to contact professional tree trimmers.
Do some simple exterior maintenance: Inspect your home’s exterior for flaking and peeling paint, and scrape, prime and cover any spots. Clean and protect decks and stairs with the proper sealers and finishes (if needed), clean the tracks of patio doors and windows, wash windows (and if you live in a coastal region, hose off exterior windows and doors to remove salt buildup from ocean spray). Although you’re not using it during the winder, clean your outdoor cooling system condensing unit by jet spraying the fan blades and coils and covering the unit with a waterproof, but breathable cover that will keep wet leaves and other damaging debris out.