While California winters are relatively mild compared to most of the country, it is still important to perform home winterization tasks in the fall. While Southern Californians might not experience the seasons like those in other parts of the country, there is a perceptible change in the air we all recognize as one season moving into another. 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.
Regardless of where you live, winterizing your home is a good investment of time and can save money each year on heating costs. As 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 attention.
Here’s how to winterize a Southern California home:
Prepare Your Furnace
Many homeowners take their central heating systems for granted, but a furnace that is improperly maintained performs less efficiently. This can lead to higher energy bills and could result in system malfunction and cause safety hazards. To prevent these kinds of issues, it is best to be proactive about furnace maintenance, especially before winter.
Here are some key steps:
- Replace the air filter in your furnace each month. Locate the filter and pull it out. Slide the new filter into the slot, following the arrows on the frame of the filter.
- Consider upgrading to a pleated filter, HEPA filter or electrostatic filter. These filters increase the energy efficiency of your furnace and allow the warm air to flow unimpeded through your home.
- Clean your air vents and ducts. Remove the vent covers with a screwdriver. Use the extension hose of your vacuum to remove the dust.
- Inspect the blower belt for cracks. Turn off the power to the furnace at the main circuit breaker. Use a screwdriver to remove the steel cover of the air handler. The blower belt is the largest rubber belt that you see. Replace the belt if it is cracked.
- Adjust your programmable thermostat so it automatically lowers the temperature while you are asleep or away from your home. Consider retrofitting your older home with one of these thermostats; newly built homes in California must be outfitted with a set-back thermostat.
- Inspect the exhaust flue outdoors to ensure it is free of obstructions such as branches or animal nests.
- Keep the area around your furnace unit free of debris and clutter.
- Open all your air vents. Remove furniture, boxes and clutter that get in the way of air flowing from the vents.
Inspect Your Water Heater
Cold showers are never fun once winter is in full force. You can reduce the chances of water heater failure during winter by performing an inspection in the fall. Look at the tank for any signs of corrosion or blackened areas near the burner. Corrosion can be coming from a leak inside of the tank or from high moisture content in the area. Blackened areas near the burner are almost always from improper combustion or back drafting. Insulation blankets can be purchased to wrap water heaters, but when blankets are installed on gas water heaters, the fire hazard may outweigh the minor if any cost savings of the wrapping. Insulated covers on newer water heaters are worthless as far as insulation goes. More often than not they pose greater fire hazards because of the proximity to the draft diverter or the combustion chamber at the base.
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 Windows and Doors
During the winter, you want to make sure that your doors and windows are airtight. Otherwise, you furnace will just be blowing money out through those cracks. Start with these simple ways to prevent cold air from seeping through your windows and doors.
- Check the glass to make sure your panes are in good shape and free of cracks.
- Add insulation if you can access the area behind the window or door trim. Adding batt insulation or spray foam insulation can stop air from sneaking in.
- Add weather stripping to all doors and windows for added protection from drafts and cold weather.
- Caulk around windows and doors.
For optimal energy efficiency, your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to its foundation. 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.
Insulate and air seal any knee walls — vertical walls with attic space directly behind them — in your home as well. In addition, if you’re building a new home or remodeling, make sure any attic decking that provides additional storage space or a platform for a heating and/or cooling unit or hot water tank is raised above the ceiling joists to leave room for adequate insulation. If the air distribution system is not within the conditioned space but within the attic, insulating the rafters will enclose the distribution system.
Check and Upgrade Safety Devices
Test existing smoke alarms and consider upgrading to dual smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detectors with smart technology that connects with other wireless technology in your home and monitor on your mobile phone. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible, and extremely dangerous gas, which can result in death if inhaled over a period of time, and can be given off by the most common appliances in your home.
Prepare Your Fireplace
Have your fireplace chimney cleaned and inspected. Remove smoke and soot stains from the fireplace surround and chimney facing by spraying the surface with water followed by scrubbing with a mixture of all-purpose cleaner and water. You can also try a mixture of vinegar and water. For marble and stone surfaces, follow the water with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. Clean glass fireplace doors with a vinegar and water solution, adding some ashes from the fireplace to gently scrub the glass.
Reverse Ceiling Fans
Many people don’t even realize that there are multiple settings on their ceiling fans. You can use your ceiling fans to assist in keeping your home warm in the winter by revering the direction of the blades. In the winter the blades should rotate clockwise. Clockwise rotation pushes the warm air down and recirculates it throughout the room. Alongside your heater, your home will stay toasty all winter long.
As cold weather approaches, it is important to take a few preventative measures to protect your home through the chilly months. Winterizing is generally a task that can be done relatively inexpensively, but will make a big difference in how comfortable your home is, and could end up saving you money on energy bills, too. In fact, many very effective home weatherproofing jobs are something that homeowners can complete without professional help.