Speaking of water, Steven Roy, a principal at Elliot Whittier Insurance in Danvers, points out that many New England homeowners end up with claims because of frozen pipes. He discovered why himself when the pipes froze under his kitchen sink in a new house he lived in a few years ago. “The house was only like five years old when we bought it,” he says, “but the way the kitchen plumbing under the floor was situated — too close to the wall — the pipes would freeze.” When outdoor temps were frigid, Roy would simply leave the under-sink cabinet open to warm the air around the pipes. But if you have any cold spots in your house or basement, he recommends investing in a freeze alarm, an easy-to-install box you place near your pipes. It costs about $150, and, again, can save you that emergency call everyone dreads.
Finally, Daniels reminds that now’s the time to make sure hoses, sprinklers, and irrigation systems are drained and turned off for the winter.
READY YOUR ROOF
Ice dams can form on your roof and prevent the water from melting snow from draining. The water can then back up and damage shingles, leaking into the roof and causing serious damage to your home’s interior. You can avoid ice dams by first cleaning your gutters of any leaf debris before the temperature dips below freezing. Then, once the snow starts to fall, remove it from your roof with a long-poled roof rake. “I get the snow right off of there,” says Roy. “It is a pain, but not as painful as having water damage to ceilings and light fixtures and all of that.” Daniels recommends buying a roof rake now, “before they’re as hot as Springsteen tickets.”
A more involved but long-lasting way to prevent ice dams is to insulate your attic. “A rake is an effective temporary fix,” says Kimbel, “but it’s like bailing out your bathtub with a bucket instead of fixing the clogged drain.” The root cause of the problem, he says, is that warm air from the house can get to the roof and melt the snow toward its top; when the melted snow reaches the eaves, which are colder because they overhang the house, it can refreeze and back up, again causing damage to the shingles. If the attic is well insulated, however, the entire roof will remain the same temperature, and snow will melt only when the sun gets warm enough.
Rex points out that insulation alone, however, won’t solve the problem: You must also seal the entrance to the attic to prevent heat from the house from getting in. If you have a walk-up attic, simply add a weatherstrip sweep to the bottom of the door; if you have a hatch with a fold-down ladder, line its perimeter with stick-on foam weatherstripping.
Cold air may be sneaking in around the electrical boxes that house outlets or switches in your exterior walls, but fixing this problem couldn’t be easier. A ¼-inch or even ⅛ -inch gap is the equivalent of a 2-inch hole in your wall, according to Strickland. “That’s a hole in the envelope that’s supposed to surround your home so that cold air can’t come in,” he says. Kimbel notes that pre-cut foam gaskets are available for about 20 cents apiece. “It’s a two-minute job,” he says. “Simply remove the switch-plate screws, place the sealer over the outlet or switch, and reinstall the switch plate.”
Next up, check the basement rim joist, which separates the wood frame of your house from the foundation. If it’s not insulated, a lot of warmth can escape. “Keeping the heat from being lost from the basement helps keep that first floor warmer,” says Kimbel, “so when you’re standing in the kitchen barefoot in the morning, it’s not quite as excruciating an experience.” Nailing foam board with an R-value of 2 to 3.5 to the rim joist and then spraying foam insulation at its edges is the best fix.
Three-season rooms and enclosed porches can be major sources of heat loss if they’re not properly insulated. Working in the crawl space is a dirty job, but worth it. “On the bottom of the sun porch floor,” Rex says, “attach rigid foam board to the floor between the joists. Seal it with canned spray foam around the edges. It’s an easy fix.” Do the same in your garage if it’s located under your house, advises Spinelli. “Otherwise,” he says, “you’re basically sitting on an ice cube.”
If you’re willing to tackle a more involved project, consider having insulation blown into your exterior walls. “It directly saves on heating bills,” Kimbel says, “and increases comfort in the home.” This project requires a skilled contractor and can be pricey, but if you start with a free two-hour home-energy assessment from Mass Save, you can get a rebate for as much as 75 percent of the cost, up to $2,000.Continued...