As we move into the first days of fall, it still feels like summer in much of the United States. Transitional seasons can be tricky sometimes, lulling us into a false sense of security with mild temperatures that seem like they could last forever. When the first real chill suddenly sets in, it can catch us off guard.
Despite the fact that winter may seem far off, it’s important to take steps to ensure you’re prepared for cooler temperatures and harsh weather at home and on the road. By taking these steps now, you’ll stay safe and comfortable as well as offset the steep energy costs associated with winter.
Inspect Your Home
Checking your home before winter temperatures set in is one of the most important things you can do. Carrying out your own inspection or hiring a professional well ahead of time can give you a chance to repair or fortify any areas that may need attention, before it’s too late.
One of the first things you should check for is air leaks around doors and windows. These can have a severe impact on the energy used to maintain the temperature in your home year round. However, these leaks can be particularly devastating in the winter, when constant drafts can sap the heat from your home, costing you money, making you uncomfortable, and even disrupting your mental health if you find yourself suffering from sudden cold chills on a regular basis.
You can use a long-nosed lighter to slowly move the flame around the perimeter of your doors and windows. Be very careful not to get so close that you risk burning part of your home. If the flame flickers in multiple directions in a particular area, you may have a leak. Fortunately, these are easily repaired by using low-cost adhesive foam strips for smaller leaks.
For larger leaks, you can fill them with sprayable expanding foam. However, depending on the severity and cause of the leak you may want to contact a professional to seek out a more permanent solution. Choosing thick, lined curtains can also help retain heat that would normally escape through your windows, while also preventing drafts from entering.
Aside from obvious areas like windows and doors, your home may also have leaks due to improper insulation. As heat rises in your home, it’s essential that the door leading to your attic and any recessed lighting fixtures are well sealed. The attic space itself can also work for or against you, either retaining the heat your home produces or releasing it haphazardly and letting in cool breezes. If you’re not familiar with assessing whether you have proper insulation in your walls, ceilings, and floors, it may be a good idea to ask a professional for help.
It’s a good idea to have your heating system inspected in the fall as well. A professional can check the thermostat settings to ensure your system is running properly. They will inspect electrical connections and test the voltage of individual components to predict and prevent any system failures.
They will give the system an overall tuneup, lubricating moving parts, changing your air filter, and replacing any worn out parts to ensure your system is running efficiently. Aside from the main components in your heating system, they should also check the ductwork in your home to ensure there are no leaks and that the ducts are properly insulated. While this may cost a small service fee, it will pay off as your system heats your home effectively and without failure all winter long.
Heat Your Home Wisely
While you may be able to deal with cooler temperatures inside your home for a while, inevitably, you’ll reach the point where you’ll need to turn up your thermostat. If you can be intentional about how and when you heat your home you can save money on heating costs this winter.
For example, you don’t need to keep the thermostat cranked up all the time if no one is around during the day. You’ll probably need to leave your home regularly for work, errands, and other tasks. If you’ll be away for more than a few hours, it’s a good idea to turn the thermostat down a few degrees. The same is true when you sleep. While temperatures might be at their lowest late at night, you’ll likely be under a pile of blankets, wearing warm pajamas. There’s no need to keep the temperature high in your whole house when you’re keeping warm in one spot.
If you have a programmable thermostat, you can ensure you won’t forget to reset the temperature. You can set some thermostats to adjust automatically several times throughout the day, which means you won’t have to suffer the cold while waiting for your house to warm up when you get out of bed in the morning or when you come home from work. Taking this a step further, occupancy sensors can adjust the lighting and temperature in each room of your home, depending on whether someone is actually in the room.
Even when you’re awake at home, you may not need to heat every room equally if you’re mostly using a few spaces. It’s seemingly unavoidable that one room in your house will always feel colder than the others, and this may place excess strain on your heating system. Bundling up in blankets and comfy sweaters can keep you warm without turning up the overall temperature. Using supplemental heat sources like space heaters can help keep the most used areas of your home warm. Keep in mind, even with these solutions, it’s important to maintain a high enough overall temperature to keep your pipes from freezing.
Winterize Your Vehicle
We depend on our vehicles for safe transportation and shelter from winter weather in between home, the workplace, the grocery store, and other places we need to travel. Icy weather conditions present enough of a hazard on their own. You don’t want to risk that your car will break down, leaving you stranded in dangerously low temperatures. Whether you are a home mechanic or you take your car into the shop, it’s important to winterize your car each fall to ensure it’s running well and prepared for the strain winter will place on it.
While checking your car’s fluids regularly is essential to maintaining your car all year long, winter presents particular challenges. Ensuring you have the correct mixture of antifreeze and water will prevent your coolant from freezing in your radiator. Your vehicle’s owner manual should list the correct ratio.
Although the oil in your car won’t technically freeze, cold temperatures cause it to thicken, which could prevent the oil from properly lubricating your engine. At the very least, this could result in poor performance and lower fuel efficiency. Cold weather already has a significant negative impact on fuel economy, causing our cars to perform at anywhere from 12 to 34 percent, depending on your vehicle.
However, in some cases, cold-thickened oil could also result in total engine failure. If you live in an area where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, you may also want to switch to a thinner oil for the season. Again, your owner’s manual may provide more information about this, or you might consult your mechanic.
Investing in freeze-resistant windshield wiper fluid will also ensure that you can keep your view clear. This is especially important in snowy weather. However, the salt used on many main roads and highways can mix with water as snow and ice melts, spraying up from other cars’ tires and fogging up your windshield. It’s important that you can quickly and consistently maintain clear vision in these conditions.
Your car battery will have a lower capacity in the winter, and it’s important to have a professional perform a thorough inspection of your battery’s charge as well as the surrounding cables and terminals. On average, a car battery will last between 5 and 7 years, and it’s important to keep this in mind as it may be a good idea to simply replace the battery and avoid being stranded by a dead battery.
Plan for Dangerous Conditions
Unless this is your first winter in an area, you probably have a good idea of what to expect related to driving conditions. However, even a seasoned driver can be taken off guard by sudden or extreme weather. If you’re expecting consistent winter precipitation, it may be a good idea to invest in snow tires or tire chains.
You might be able to make it around the corner to the grocery store, skidding a bit as you go. However, if you can help it, it’s best not to take that risk. Especially with other drivers on the road, it’s important to keep as much control over your own vehicle as possible to keep yourself and others safe.
While it may be unlikely that you’ll end up stranded in your car, it’s not impossible. It doesn’t take much to create an emergency pack for such situations. Even if you’re only stranded for a few hours, a few essential items can make a huge difference. Consider creating a kit containing the following:
A blanket, leather gloves, and a warm hat
A bag of sand or kitty litter (for tire traction if you’re stuck)
An ice scraper and brush
A small shovel
A leak-proof container of coolant
Water (with room in the container, in case of freezing)
A First-Aid Kit
This is a good list for the very minimum. However, if you live in an area with frequent and extreme winter weather events, you might also include the following:
A collapsible fuel container
A cell phone charger (powered by a car outlet, or a hand-crank charger)
Road flares (in low visibility)
The saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true when considering winter preparations. The heating system in your home works hard to keep you safe and comfortable, and it’s important to make sure it works efficiently to avoid wasted energy and high heating bills. Likewise, your car is often your only level of protection when you’re out and about in dangerous conditions, and it’s crucial that you set yourself up for success early rather than sliding into a ditch or allowing your engine or battery to fail altogether.
If you choose to ignore these concerns, you may regret it when something goes wrong and you find yourself stuck in the cold.