Winter is coming, whether you like it or not. And for some North Fork homeowners, that means a list of maintenance to-do’s that may also be never-done-before’s. From calling your irrigation specialist to shut down your outdoor sprinklers to having the heating system checked before the season’s first frost and cleaning the chimney, first-time homeowners (or those who are newly staying in their North Fork home year-round due to the pandemic) may find preparing their home for winter living can entail more than they anticipated.
“For many people this is their first home,” said Sheri Winter Parker, licensed associate real estate broker with The Corcoran Group. “A lot of people are apartment dwellers or home renters so home ownership can be a new experience.” The good news is that with some pre-planning and relying on the help of local experts, you can make sure you — and your home — are ready for colder temperatures.
To Do: Seal up your windows
Nobody likes a drafty house. But tiny gaps in window and door frames and casings mean more than putting on an extra sweater: Money is being sucked out as the cold air seeps in. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a well-sealed home results in 15% savings on heating and cooling costs, or 11% on total energy costs.
“Make sure that all the windows are tight and lockable,” said Jim Baldridge, owner of Seavue Carpentry & Care Taking in Southold. “If [homeowners] have double-hung windows they should secure the lock properly and check that they and entrance doors have a weather seal or gasketing around them to keep drafts from coming in and the heat going out.”
Vents and crawl spaces should also be examined and insulated to keep drafts at bay, said Baldridge. Other air leaks can occur at electrical outlets, baseboards and near air conditioning units. To make sure they are covering their bases, some homeowners opt for an energy audit that can find leaks and identify areas that need extra insulation. While these audits can cost upward of 50 cents per square foot, they may result in a 5% to 30% reduction in your yearly energy costs. You can also apply online for a free audit via the nonprofit Long Island Green Homes project (longislandgreenhomes.org).
To Do: Keep your pipes warm
You’ll want to make sure your pipes are properly protected from freezing temperatures as well. Temperatures below 20 degrees and a wind chill are most likely to cause water in pipes to freeze, which of course can build up pressure and cause the pipes to burst. You’ll want to check the pipes in your attic or crawl spaces, since these unheated areas are the ones most likely to be affected by cold weather. You can wrap your pipes yourself with foam pipe insulation available at hardware stores like Riverhead Building Supply.
On particularly cold days, Baldridge says, “I always like to open the cabinet doors under the kitchen sink and under vanities if it’s along an outside wall. That lets heat inside the house to circulate into the cabinet.”
For added peace of mind, some homeowners, especially those who expect to be away from home for extended periods, choose to have an HVAC professional install temperature sensors on pipes in exterior walls, such as under a kitchen sink or in a bathroom, says Baldridge. This allows them to monitor their pipes wirelessly and take action before a pipe freezes. A smart thermostat like Google Nest or Ecobee can also help you monitor the temperature in your home from afar and adjust it when the temps get freezing.
To Do: Keep out the critters
There’s nothing like entering a warm home after a cold day outdoors, right? The many small animals on the North Fork feel the same way. That’s why it’s important to not only have your chimney inspected each fall to check for and get rid of tar buildup and soot deposits, but also to have a spark arrestor installed around the chimney caps to keep out critters looking for warmth.
“This is a screen to keep birds and raccoons out,” says Baldridge. “It’s important because a lot of warm exhaust from burners or furnaces will go out through the flue in the chimney. It’s a warm place for a bird, raccoon or squirrel to make a nest in the winter.”
To Do: Close down the patio
You might use your backyard barbecue, wet bar or pool house all summer long, but they can be easy to overlook once temperatures dip in the fall.
Baldridge advises against this. “If you have outdoor facilities like cabanas, or areas where you may have a sink or bathrooms, those areas need to be watched if they are not heated,” he says. “You need to drain the water from pipes, and you need to put camping antifreeze in the toilets and also pour it down the sinks to keep them from freezing up. Some of my customers have outbuildings with washers and dryers. Sometimes the machine is empty but there may be a small amount of water that stays in that tub. I’d add antifreeze to that also.”
To Do: Get started right away
Few look forward to weekend work especially when the air is crisp and the skies sunny, but some things aren’t worth putting off. This includes checking for clogged gutters while it’s still warm out and having your boiler serviced before it’s time to start heating your home.
Other projects include checking your fuel supply, testing your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, surveying the roof for missing or damaged shingles and draining hoses.
“Shut off all your hose bibs,” says Baldridge. “Some of those will have a small bleeder valve that you can bleed down the rest of the water from. Then let the water run out of your hose, coil it up, and put it away.”