Preparing your house for the ravages of winter
Thinking about winter so soon probably brings a chill to most homeowners, but don’t waste the fall lamenting the end of the warm season. Homeowners have a lot on their plate to get the house and grounds ready, and if you need any further motivation, try to remember last year’s brutal winter and all the work you promised to do to not suffer so much from the cold and snow. For help preparing for winter’s worst, the Globe’s Andrew Caffrey sought out Kevin O’Connor, host of the popular PBS series “This Old House.’’
Q. So Kevin, where should we start - inside or out?
A. I like to start outside. I like the weather. It’s still a really good time to plant - people may not realize that. The things that grow won’t be under a lot of stress. It’s a perfect time to overseed or patch your lawn. It’s going to grow quickly. So in a month you’ll be enjoying new grass.
And transplanting right now is a good thing. It’s cool and the ground is moist. Planting and transplanting now will give them a little leg up, so those plants will be ready in the spring.
And then there are bulbs: Bulbs are not coming in the spring if you don’t put them in the ground now. So you have to do them now.
Shrub control - this is the time to prune them back, they’ll do well, and won’t get as damaged in the snow. And believe it or not, you want to water them right up to the first frost, because they will dry out. Most people don’t think of hydrating shrubs this time of year.
There’s payoff for this season for things like the lawn and there’s payoff for next season, such as things like the bulbs.
Q. What else needs attention outside?
A. Well, if you have irrigation systems, blow them out so they don’t freeze. Outside spigots - shut them and drain them, because it’s going to freeze in there, too.
Clean the gutters - once the leaves have fallen, and before the snow has fallen. I think a lot of people will be focused on gutters this year, with all the ice damage from last winter.
It’s also time to set up the bird feeders. The birds are going to start looking for food, so put them out now instead of in the dead of winter.
Q. Moving inside, what should be first on my list?
A. Well, you’re going to turn the furnace or boiler on soon, so best to get them tuned up now. It does really make a difference. It adds years of life to a heating system. With the filters, change them. At the very least they should be changed when you switch from cooling to heating system - a piece of cake to do.
And chimneys: Now is the time to have them inspected and, if necessary, clean them. This is for those people who use a wood stove or fireplaces. Get them cleaned and get them checked out by a pro.
Q. Speaking of heat and cold, what’s my plan of attack if I want to add insulation?
A. Start with your attic. If there is only one place to do, that’s where your heat goes up and it’s also often the most exposed and accessible space for most people to get to. Continue to lay down fiberglass insulation or blow in cellulose - as much as you can fit.
Then there’s weatherstripping. Put your hands near windows and doors and feel for those cool drafts. What I find is, doors are some of the biggest culprits. So put a nice door sweep there. It’s not where people are thinking about but a lot of air comes in around them.
And if you’ve been putting off a home energy audit, here’s the time to do it. A lot of what they’re going to be telling you is applicable to this time of year, to protect you against a cold winter. And what’s nice about doing it now is they use an infrared gun to detect heat leakage, and it’s a lot easier getting a good reading when it’s cooler outside.
Q. A lot of us still remember last winter and the nightmare of too much snow. It seems more people found out the hard way what an ice dam is. Is that something a homeowner can prepare for without professional help?
A. Well, on ice dams, there are three things you can do, in this order:
Seal air leaks. Shutting down air leakage is probably going to have the biggest effect, and it’s the kind of thing you can do incrementally.
The second would be adding insulation. If you have R18 insulation value, turn it into R36. This is where your energy audit will be helpful.
And the third is making sure your roof is vented properly, if your house is designed to have a vented roof. Make sure your soffit vents aren’t blocked, your gable vents are open.
Q. These all seem like a lot of little jobs, nothing too intimidating, right?
A. Yes, on the interior stuff, this is all maintenance. This is all stuff pretty much anyone can do.
Kevin O’Connor hosts the season premier of “This Old House’’ Saturday at the show’s project home in Bedford. It can be seen on WGBH at 5 p.m. Andrew Caffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.