Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

A small cabin surrounded by pine trees, covered in a few inches of powdery, white snow.
Doing winterizing tasks helps keep our homes comfortable and energy efficient through the winter. Photo by Bobby Stevenson on Unsplash.

Wednesday morning, the outside temperature was 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The furnace at my house stopped working on Sunday, so the inside temperature was 56 degrees. This was an unpleasant reminder that it’s time to do all the winterizing tasks that help keep our homes comfortable during cold weather and potential winter storms.

Task 1 – Get your heating system inspected and serviced, especially if you have an older system. This is truly an area where an ounce of prevention can save a whole lot of discomfort and expense. When demand is high, getting service and parts can take longer.

Task 2 – Protect water pipes from freezing and bursting. Freezing temperatures can freeze water in pipes. Water expands as it turns into ice, and that can cause pipes to crack or split. The result is a leaking pipe when the water thaws.

For outdoor pipes:

  • Disconnect and drain garden hoses.
  • Shut off, drain, and install a boot over outdoor spigots.
  • Shut off and drain the lawn sprinkler system and consider covering exposed sprinkler heads.
  • Insulate exposed outdoor pipes with pipe wrap or pre-slit foam insulation tubes.

Prolonged below-freezing temperatures can cause indoor water pipes to freeze, especially pipes that run along exterior walls. To keep water in the pipes from freezing, open cabinet doors to allow heated air to circulate around pipes, keep interior doors to the laundry area open, and set a slow drip in a kitchen or bathroom sink on each floor to keep the water moving. Flowing water doesn’t freeze as quickly as still water does.

Task 3 – Seal cracks and gaps around doors and windows with caulk, weatherstripping, and door sweeps. Not only does this keep heated air inside, it also helps keep unwanted critters out. Many kinds of insects and small mammals want a warm place to overwinter, and they can get inside through surprisingly small openings. While stink bugs and ladybugs are a nuisance, mice, rats, and squirrels can cause serious damage.

Task 4 – Change furnace filters and clean air registers. Furnace filters trap dust, dirt, pet hair, and other air-borne particles. This helps keep the furnace clean and functioning, and it improves air quality inside our homes. Smaller filter pores trap more debris and capture microscope particles like bacteria to prevent them from circulating through the house.

Select filters of the appropriate size for your furnace system and look for a MERV rating (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) of 8 or higher. Filters with higher MERV ratings trap a greater percentage of small particles. For example, at MERV 1-5, a filter traps up to 20 percent of particles sized 3.0-10.0 microns. At MERV 11, a filter traps at least 85 percent of particles that size, plus 65 percent of 1.0-3.0 micron particles and 20 percent of 0.30-1.0 micron particles.

Pleated HEPA filters are over 99 percent effective at capturing large and small air-bourn particles. The more efficient a filter is, however, the more frequently it will need to be changed. Clogged and dirty filters make the furnace system work harder to pull in air.

Task 5 – Prepare for winter storms. Begin adding an extra canned good, ready to eat meal item, or pack of batteries to the shopping cart with each trip to the grocery store. Building emergency stores over time prepares you to ride out winter storms without breaking the budget.