Your Guide To Preparing Your Connecticut Home For Winter
Connecticut winters can be brutal! With an average low temperature in the 20's throughout December, January and February, many homes must be specially prepared to ensure comfort and safety. Frozen pipes, chimney fires and ice dams are a common problem at this time of year, as are chills and drafts that cause discomfort throughout the winter.
Fortifying your Connecticut home against these hazards can help you and your family stay safe throughout the season. Installing proper insulation, performing chimney and roof maintenance and upgrading windows are all steps that homeowners can take to improve their home's efficiency while also making their home safer and more comfortable.
Litchfield Builders works with homeowners around Connecticut to perform upgrades and maintenance. As your resource for home construction, renovation and remodeling in New Haven and the surrounding area, we can help you make improvements to your home that will enable you to get through the winter comfortably, safely and with efficiency.
Planning a remodel? With our free checklist, you'll be sure every detail is accounted for before you begin construction.
Hazards to Avoid
The hazards of winter are numerous. Although homes are built to withstand snow, wind and normal winter activities, it takes only one especially heavy snow, one roof leak or one chimney fire to create hazardous conditions inside and out. These common hazards can be dangerous for homeowners and can also do significant structural damage. Performing normal maintenance is the only way these hazards can be avoided.
Frozen Pipe Damage
The lower the temperature dips in the winter, the greater the threat that pipes will freeze. As water freezes, it also expands. Sometimes, this causes no damage at all. The homeowner must live without water from that pipe until it thaws, but as soon as the pipe has warmed, life continues as before.
Other times, the expanding water causes the pipe to break open. When the ice thaws, the pipe begins to leak. If the gash in the pipe is large, the water damage can be significant. If the pipe breaks open while the homeowner is away, there could be thousands of dollars in water damage to repair.
Frozen pipe damage can be avoided. Poor insulation and poor HVAC performance are among the leading causes of this problem. The colder it is inside the walls of the home, the greater the chances are that a pipe will freeze. By improving insulation and improving HVAC performance, you can prevent this problem from happening.
Older homes are in the greatest danger. Often, it is the pipes located around exterior walls, in the basement and in the attic that are most likely to freeze. By adding more insulation to the outer walls, basement and the attic, you can help keep heat inside the house. We also recommend insulating the pipes themselves. If your furnace is older and no longer functions reliably and properly, we recommend installing a new furnace.
Around 25,000 chimneys catch fire every year, causing about 30 deaths annually. Chimneys can catch fire for many reasons. Improper construction, inadequate or missing lining, lack of maintenance and buildup of creosote can all cause a chimney to catch fire. Whether you use your fireplace once at the holidays or throughout the winter, we recommend getting your fireplace serviced annually. Have it cleaned and inspected every year to ensure that the chimney is in proper working condition.
Chimneys in older homes may lack a liner, as lining the chimney did not become common practice until around the turn of the 20th century. Often, these old chimneys fall into disuse and disrepair. Using a chimney that has not been cleaned or maintained in a long time can be dangerous. If you're a homeowner with an older house and you're not sure whether or not the chimney is in usable condition, have it inspected before you try to use it.
High Energy Bills
Older homes often have high energy bills. Usually this happens because of a combination of problems like poor insulation, older HVAC equipment and poorly maintained single-pane windows. While it might help to weather strip and use the programmable thermostat to run the HVAC system efficiently, this isn't a silver bullet. If your home has high energy bills, the problem is likely to get worse over time. Fortunately, you can improve the situation by making regular upgrades.
Get an energy audit or make an appointment for a consultation with a contractor. Get an HVAC system tuneup annually, to ensure that your furnace is working properly. Finally, replace systems that are too old. For example, replace your windows and doors with newer, insulated models. Doing this can help prevent warm air from leaking out of your home at the height of the long, cold winter.
Snow is heavy, and this is especially true of wet snow. If your home is built to code and it is properly maintained, you should not have this problem. Still, roof collapses do happen from time to time following heavy snow storms. Often, this occurs because the roof has been damaged or weakened in some way, either because of a persistent roof leak or because of damage from wood-eating pests.
You can avoid this problem by having your roof inspected. If your roof has damage, have it repaired before the snow season begins. Finally, know the signs that your home's roof is buckling under pressure. Listen for groaning and creaking noises and watch for doors or windows to become jammed. If you're worried that your home's roof is going to collapse, vacate the house and contact a structural engineer for an evaluation.
An ice dam is a problem that occurs when snow at the high points in the roof melts and rolls down to the low points of the roof, where the water re-freezes. Over time, ice builds up on the roof and backs up under the shingles. Eventually, the ice penetrates the underlayment and leaks into the home. Ice dams can cause the structure of the home to weaken, which can eventually cause a roof collapse.
Ice dams can be hard to fix. The cause usually comes down to a problem with insulation and poor ventilation in the attic. Keeping the attic all one temperature helps prevent the snow from melting over the hot spots and refreezing in the lower portions of the attic. Work with a contractor to keep your roof in good condition.
On a cold night in winter, a broken furnace can be a big problem. Temperatures in an unheated home can dip dangerously low, causing injuries and frozen pipes. You can avoid this problem by maintaining your furnace, and by replacing the furnace when it gets older. Furnaces last about 15 to 20 years, so if your furnace is getting older, have it serviced before winter comes. If your furnace broke down multiple times last winter, it's probably time to have it replaced. Work with a contractor to get it serviced.
No Hot Water
Tankless water heaters last about 20 years, while tank water heaters last about 10. If your water heater goes on the fritz in the winter, you could face days of inconvenience while you wait for the water heater to be replaced.
Since most tank water heaters will leak when they break down, a broken water heater can even result in a flood that causes hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage. Have your water heater inspected by a plumber or contractor before winter comes, then have it serviced or replaced, if the heater needs it. If you've never had your water heater drained, now may be the time. Talk to your plumber to have this done.
Residential Upgrades to Winter-Proof Your Connecticut Home
You can make your home more efficient and comfortable! These upgrades and home improvements will help you take control of the interior temperature of your home and save on energy bills at the same time. These upgrades can also help you boost the value of your home.
Replace Windows and Doors
Single-pane windows are common in older, historic homes. These wood-frame windows, while charming in some ways, often don't fit properly in their frames. Years of neglect can cause older windows to become poor insulators, and can lead to unpleasant drafts. Older doors may have the same problem. Replacing windows can save homeowners as much as $460 annually, while replacing old doors can boost curb appeal as well as improve the efficiency of the home.
Old siding can leak during the long winters, leading to water damage inside the home. Some types of siding will last for decades while others will last for a century or longer. Still, it takes proper maintenance for a home's siding to maintain its ability to deflect water and protect the home. If your siding is past its prime, have it replaced before winter comes. Replacing it will help protect your home from water damage, snow and ice.
Finish the Basement
Unfinished basements can be cold and damp. Pipes freeze in unfinished basements, while condensation can collect on the walls, causing mold to grow. A finished basement is, by design, far more hospitable and easier to maintain. In order to finish the basement, the drainage must be perfected, moisture issues must be managed, and the space must be heated. Talk to your contractor to get your basement finished and you could add hundreds of livable square feet to your home.
Cold floors are a common problem in winter. Cold floors do more than make your feet uncomfortable: they also make the room draftier. Installing new floors gives your contractor the opportunity to install a new underlayment and insulation, which can help keep your home more comfortable when temperatures outside drop. If your home sits over a crawl space, insulating the crawl space when installing new flooring can help keep warm air inside your home.
Uninsulated walls and an underinsulated attic can lead to ice dams and drafts. If your home is poorly insulated, this can also put pressure on your HVAC system, forcing your furnace to work harder and longer to keep up with your heating demands. Have your home's insulation evaluated by a professional and, if more insulation is necessary, work with a contractor who understands insulation.
Add an Attic Apartment
Finishing an attic has the same benefits of finishing a basement. Finishing the attic ensures that it will be more livable, more comfortable and more efficient. This can help keep your home warmer and more comfortable throughout the season.
When you remodel your bathroom, it's the perfect time to insulate the pipes and install radiant heat below the floors. Some homeowners like to install bathroom wall heaters to make the room extra comfortable right before a bath or shower.
The garage can be a frigid place in winter. Installing insulation is an excellent way to make the garage a more pleasant place to spend time. If you have a wood shop or work shop in your garage, a garage remodel is an excellent option to turn the space into serviceable living space.
Benefits of Winter Remodeling
There are many benefits to winter remodeling! Remodeling in winter ensures that your home will be ready for spring. If you go away for a winter break or holiday vacation, your contractor can do the work while you're gone. Often, contractors offer lower prices in winter than during the busy season, in order to remain competitive. Finally, because many contractors are less busy in the winter than at other times, they often have more flexible schedules. This helps ensure that your remodel can be done at a convenient time.
Get Started With Your Winter Remodel Today
Are you preparing your Connecticut home for winter? What projects will you be taking on? Leave your comments in the box below. Whether your home is newer or older, you can improve your home's efficiency by getting an energy audit. Your energy auditor can tell you which parts of your house need to be remodeled or renovated to stay more comfortable.
At Litchfield Builders, we help homeowners make their home more comfortable, functional and efficient. Late fall and early winter are the perfect time of year to improve insulation, fix the HVAC system, replace your home's interior flooring and perform other upgrades that can help make your home more comfortable. If you haven't yet gotten started with your home renovation, now is the time to begin.
Contact Litchfield Builders today to make an appointment for a consultation. You can also take a look at our 3 Phases to Planning a Home Remodel. Our free publication is an excellent resource for homeowners who want to make home improvements but aren't sure where to begin.
About Kevin Ahern
Kevin is the Co-Founder of Litchfield Builders, an award-winning, industry leader with a reputation for managing projects others shy away from. They are known for their high-quality work, customer service, and reliability and though still relatively small in size, Litchfield Builders now competes with some of the areas largest firms in both the residential and commercial arenas.