What does your house need from you as winter approaches? Whether you are a tenant or an homeowner, do these things:

  1. Close and lock all your windows. They seal better when they are locked.
  2. Turn off your outdoor spigot. If you don’t, it might freeze and break.

frozen faucet winterIt’s easy.

  • Find the shut off in your basement. Turn it all the way to the right, if it’s a knob; turn it perpendicular to the pipe, if it is a handle.
  • Then go outside and turn the outside faucet/spigot/hose bib all the way to the left, which is open. (If you turned it off inside, there will be little or no water coming out.)
  • Now, go inside and hang a tag or ribbon on the valve where you turned it off. That saves you a search in the spring.

3. Keep an eye on any pipes that run on outside walls of your house. Leave them dripping on nights when it goes below 10 degrees.

4. Close draperies at nigh for added insulation on your windows. If you have insulated drapes or shades, all the better! If you don’t, get some next time you upgrade your curtains or drapes.

5. Move furniture, rugs, and mats away from hot air heating and intake ducts.

About hot air heating systems:

This is something most people don’t know about, until it happens to them: you need to keep the air ducts clear if you want your furnace to operate efficiently. Since the grates are sometimes in the floor, this can be overlooked.

Both the intake (where air returns to the furnace) and the heating ducts need to be clear of mats, rugs, and furniture. Which is which?

Vent grates: These are the grates where heat will blow out. If the furnace is blowing in some grates, it should be blowing in all of them, except the intakes.

Intake grates: The intake grate is usually bigger than the grates that the heat comes out of. They are often in hallway (which make them tempting for places to put boots.) Blocking this grate decreases the efficiency, at least, and can cause worse problems if the air is cut off too much for too long. The furnace can stop working entirely if you suffocate it enough. In some old houses, the systems were reconfigured; there may be some grates that are no longer doing anything. Don’t cover any of them, in case the non-working heating vents are intakes.

The winter heating mystery, solved:

Once upon a time, my tenants put a rubberized mat over the whole intake grate. That caused the furnace to stop working. The HVAC guy showed me what they were doing and tuned up the furnace while he was here.  Problem solved. He told me of other people with this problem. It’s common. He also told me of another problem caused by this: smell!

heating grate covered with shoes

If you put your boots on the intake grate, sometimes it can make your house smell like eau de boot. I didn’t smell this first-hand — so it may be an urban legend — however, this is the story I heard:

There was a house that had a bad smell. Sort of briny. The family cleaned everything, but the smell persisted. Eventually, they went to get their heating ducts cleaned. The duct cleaning crew told them that they shouldn’t store sneakers on the intake grate. That was probably the source of the smell. They cleaned the ducts anyway. Afterwards, the smell was gone.

Even though we’ve had a pretty mild November around Boston, winter is coming. If you have time this holiday weekend, take care of these small things to be warm and cozy when the snow starts flying.

Happy Thanksgiving.