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Winter Preparation Checklist

Conduct a thorough inspection before the season’s first cold snap as part of your winter preparation.

Winter Preparation

Photo: Flickr

Give your home a once-over and tend to winter preparation tasks and repairs before the year’s first frost. “Getting the exterior of the home ready for the cold winds, snow and ice is critical for keeping Old Man Winter out and keeping it warm and toasty inside,” says Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Springfield, VA. By being proactive, you’ll lower your energy bills, increase the efficiency and lifespan of your home’s components, and make your property safer.

Windows and Doors

  • Check all the weatherstripping around windows and doorframes for leaks to prevent heat loss. Replace weatherstripping, if necessary.
  • Replace all screen doors with storm doors.
  • Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay. Repair or replace framing to maintain structural integrity.
  • Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.
  • Inspect windows for cracks, broken glass, or gaps. Repair or replace, if needed.


Lawn, Garden, and Deck

  • Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent iced-over or wind-swept branches from causing property damage or a power problem.
  • Aerate the lawn, reseed, and apply a winterizing fertilizer to promote deep-root growth come spring.
  • Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. The dirt grade — around the exterior of your home — should slope away from the house. Add extra dirt to low areas, as necessary.
  • Clean and dry patio furniture. Cover with a heavy tarp or store inside a shed or garage to protect it from the elements.
  • Clean soil from planters. Bring pots made of clay or other fragile materials indoors. Because terra cotta pots can swell and crack, lay them on their sides in a wood carton.
  • Dig up flower bulbs, brush off soil, and label. Store bulbs in a bag or box with peat moss in a cool, dry place for spring replanting.
  • Remove any attached hoses and store them away for the winter to prevent cracks, preserve their shapes, and prolong their life. Wrap outside faucets with covers to prevent water damage.
  • Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
  • Inspect decks for splintering, decay, or insect damage and treat, if needed, to prevent further deterioration over the winter.
  • Clean leaves, dirt, and pine needles between the boards of wooden decks to thwart mold and mildew growth.
  • Inspect outdoor lighting around the property. Good illumination will help minimize the chance of accidents on icy walkways at night.
  • Check handrails on exterior stairs to make sure they’re well secured.


Tools and Machinery

  • Bring all seasonal tools inside and spray them with a coating of lightweight oil to prevent rust.
  • Weatherize your lawn mower by cleaning off mud, leaves, grass, and debris.
  • Move your snow blower and shovels to the front of the garage or shed for easy access.
  • Prepare the snow blower for the first snowfall by changing the oil and replacing the spark plug.
  • Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels to make sure they’re ready for another season of work.
  • Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand for steps, walkways, and the driveway.


Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning

  • Inspect the firebox and flue system to ensure that they’re clean of any soot or creosote and that there aren’t any cracks or voids that could cause a fire hazard.
  • Check fireplace for drafts. If it’s cold despite the damper being closed, the damper itself may be warped, worn, or rusted. Consider installing a Chimney Balloon into the flue to air seal the area tightly.
  • Clean or replace the air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency and improved indoor air quality.
  • Clean your whole house humidifier and replace the evaporator pad.
  • Bleed valves on any hot-water radiators to increase heating efficiency by releasing air that may be trapped inside.
  • Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  • Remove air conditioners from windows or cover them with insulated liners, to prevent drafts.
  • If you have an older thermostat, replace it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs.
  • Install foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce outside airflow.
  • Make sure fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down to the floor for enhanced energy efficiency and comfort.
  • Flush a hot water heater tank to remove sediment, and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it’s in proper working order.
  • Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces, and use a sealant to plug up any leaks.


Gutters, Roof, and Drains

  • Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles and replace, as necessary before you get stuck with a leak.
  • Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate, using roofing cement and a caulking gun.
  • Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening, and re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and ice can pull gutters off the house.
  • Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet to prevent flooding of the foundation and water damage from snowmelt.
  • Clean leaves and debris from courtyard and pool storm drains to prevent blockages.
  • Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.

Done? Congratulations!  You’re officially ready for winter.


Conduct a thorough inspection before the season’s first cold snap as part of your winter preparation.

Christmas Tree Recycling - Treecycling

Photo: Cross Timbers Gazette

With the fun and excitement of the holidays behind us, it’s time to do what seemed unthinkable only a couple weeks ago–unstring the lights, remove the ornaments, and figure out what to do with the Christmas tree. If you have an artificial one, the solution is simple: pack it away for next year.  If, however, you are one of the 30 million households that have a real evergreen, consider disposing of your holiday treasure (“It was the best tree ever, wasn’t it?”) in a way that will not only be earth-friendly, but useful. For the record, a tree carted off to a landfill will take up a lot of space–and for quite some time, since the lack of oxygen makes decay a painfully slow process.

The solution: Treecycling.  Most communities around the country have a Christmas tree recycling program in place where discarded Christmas trees are chipped into mulch for gardens (including yours) or shredded for use on paths and hiking trails.  In areas where soil erosion is an issue, discarded Christmas trees can be effective sand and soil barriers and help aid sedimentation management.  You can even put the tree in the backyard to become a bird feeder and sanctuary or, if you have a fish pond, submerge it where it can serve as an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.

Where to begin?  The National Christmas Tree Association–together with Earth911.org, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based conservation group–offer a zip code locator to help you find a suitable treecycling solution near you.  Check it out and start the New Year off right–and green!

For more on sustainability, consider:

The Meaning Behind GREEN
Salvaging Starbucks for the Holidays
Nest Learning Thermostat: Digital-Age Home Temperature Control

LUTRON Serena Cellular Shades


Lutron Shades

Photo: aveainc.com

LUTRON, a brand commonly known for its innovations in light control and dimmers, recently added a new and more affordable—starting at $299—line of cellular shades with Serena.

The remote-controlled Serena Cellular Shades, which can be mounted easily inside or outside window frames, are available in more than 50 fabric colors and a choice of opacity, from sheer and translucent to room darkening.  Since all fabric shades come with a white backing, they not only provide a uniform look from the outside but offer light reflecting benefits that help keep interiors cool during summer months.

Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tip: Roof Repair or Replacement

Roof Replacement

Photo: The Local Planet

The cost of re-roofing is something no one wants to think about, but every roof—at some point—will need to be repaired or replaced. The best defense is to conduct regular checks on the roof surface and be mindful of its performance. Discovering minor problems today could mean the difference between repair and replacement tomorrow.

The good news is that you needn’t climb on your roof to assess its condition. Good vision plus binoculars may be all you need to affirm that replacing the roof is essential or that only spot repair is needed.  “Just because your roof isn’t leaking doesn’t mean you don’t have a roofing problem,” cautions Joann Liebeler, former co-host of PBS’s Home Time and, currently, a spokesperson for GAF

Liebeler cites some “danger signals” you need to look for to know when your roof isn’t protecting your home:

• Water in your attic after heavy rain or an ice buildup.
• Cracked, curling, missing or loose shingles.
• Noticeable shingle decay; mold or mildew growth.
• Visible stains on interior walls or ceilings.

Damaged or missing shingles “can simply require that a replacement shingle be installed,” says Liebeler, “or it could be the first sign that the shingles have reached their useful life and need to be replaced.” But if your shingles are cracking or curling at the edges, she adds, “that’s a pretty good signal that the roof will need to be replaced.”

For everything you need to know about asphalt shingles—their type, style, color choices, cost and durability—go to Asphalt Shingles 101.

Remembering Vizcaya

Checking your roof for problem signs now could mean the difference between repair or replacement later.


Photo: wikimedia.com

While visitors to Miami primarily come for sun and fun, the city offers a wealth of artistic, cultural and architectural wonders, among them Vizcaya—the former winter residence of American Industrialist John Deering.

My first memories of Vizcaya date back to 1960 when I visited the grand estate with my parents and grandmother one Sunday afternoon. It may well have been the spark that ignited my love of old houses and classical architecture. The house is a perfect Italian Renaissance Palazzo. It was built in 1916 by Deering, a vice president of International Harvester, to resemble a 400-year-old Italian estate that had been occupied and renovated by several generations of family. Much of the actual building components (ceilings, doors, floors and mantlepieces) were bought from Italian antiquarians and installed here along with a ship-load of antique furniture.

Vizcaya - Gardens

Photo: Flickr

To visit the property today, one can only imagine what it must have been like in 1916 surrounded by 180 acres of wild Florida jungle hammock. Much of the land has been preserved so even the incredible classical gardens are part of the attraction today. You can watch a short video that I shot at Vizcaya, below, and visit the museum website here. It’s really a “must see” for any South Florida visitor who loves architecture on the grand scale.

For more on architectural history, consider:

A Farm Grows in Brooklyn
The Biltmore Estate: A Brief Architectural Tour
Revitalizing the Hemingway Home in Cuba

Quick Tip: Snow Blower Safety

Snowblower Safety

‘Tis the season for snowblowing, and it’s no joke that hundreds of emergency room visits each winter are caused by unsafe snowblowing practices, so before you fire yours up, remember these safety tips.

How to Deal with Jams
Even though some manufacturers have redesigned their chutes to avoid clogs in heavy snow, anyone who’s ever used a snowblower can tell you that chute or auger jams are inevitable, no matter how powerful your machine. Never, ever clear a jam by hand. Always turn the engine off first, disengage the clutch and use a broom handle or other long object to clear the obstruction. While some manufacturers are getting away from using shear pins, if your machine has them, they will break in a heavy jam to avoid damaging the internal gears. These are a pain to replace, but you can’t run your machine without them, so have extras on hand.

How to Work with Electric Snowblowers
If your snowblower is electric, make sure the extension cord you’re using is UL-rated for exterior use and is long enough for the area you need to cover but not longer than 150 feet from the power source. And be extra careful not to run over the cord while you’re at work!

The Proof of the Pudding: The 12-Year Kitchen

Proceed with caution when using heavy-duty snow removal equipment.

The stove in our new kitchen

It was finally done. The punch list had been completed, the painting was (mostly) finished, and the wall hangings were in place. And it looked fabulous.

No matter how great a kitchen looks, though, it has to work. The cook needs to have everything within reach, the family needs to be able to use all the new features, and guests need to feel comfortable going in and out of the room—and you know how guests always congregate in the kitchen. With the work behind us, it was time to give our new kitchen a test run.

Nothing puts a kitchen’s design and fittings to the test more than the Big Kahuna of entertaining days, Thanksgiving. I’m happy to report that our new kitchen passed its inaugural Turkey Day with flying colors. It all came together, from the double oven that worked overtime in the days leading up to the big day and all throughout the day, to the super-sized fridge that had room for everything, to the sink and counter space that allowed us to prepare dinner for 15 with none of the cramped awkwardness that plagued us in earlier years. It worked. We even got to watch the parade as we worked—on the little flat-screen TV we added on a swing-away wall mount.

It’s almost a shame to think we’ll never do this again—and trust me, we won’t! We learned so much as we made our way through the project that we should lend ourselves out to friends and relatives who want to remodel, so we can put some of this newfound smarts to work. I would summarize the important things to know as these:

•  Planning is everything. We spent months refining the floor plan, thinking through the cabinet design, mentally turning on and off the lights so we could plot out the electrical wiring. If I had it to again, I probably would have ordered a double-hung window instead of a casement in the powder room, but except for that I don’t regret a single thing—we did all our thinking in advance, so we don’t have to second-guess ourselves now.

•  Communication with the contractor is a two-way street, and you need to keep that traffic flowing. Margaret and I talked to Keith every day, checking in on what decisions we needed to make that day and what decision points were coming in the next week or so.

•  Timing, timing, timing! Since we had very little room to store materials, we had to practice “just in time inventory”—the garage had to be cleared of all the lumber, windows, doors, and plywood before we could take delivery on the cabinets, and the appliances had to stay on hold until all the cabinets were installed.

•  Mutual respect is a critical component of the contractor-homeowner relationship. For the duration of the project, half of our house was a work site… but it was right there in our living quarters. Knowing that Keith was respectful of our home made it easier to deal with the disruption in our lives; I’m pretty sure he appreciated our being respectful of his job site.

•  Measure, measure, measure. We just talked to friends who have had to return and exchange a long list of materials and supplies that didn’t fit. Their sink protruded into the shower stall, a cabinet was a full six inches short of its space, faucets didn’t fit, and on and on. W­­e did have to swap out the pot filler for a smaller one when we realized we’d failed to account for the light cove molding on the bottom of the cabinets when we measured­ the space. But that was really the only misstep—and after the hundreds of decisions and measurements over the last nine months, I’m okay with that.

It will still take us a few more months to get the house completely back in shape—we need to repaint the center hall, the blinds we ordered for the bay window will need to be installed, and next spring we’ll need to repaint the picket fence that got a little banged up over the course of the project. But the kitchen is officially done, and we’re ready to start thinking about our next project. The kids are lobbying for a finished basement, but that’s not in our budget. What comes next will be strictly DIY!

For more kitchen design ideas and planning advice, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Planning Your Dream Kitchen

Options for Kitchen Cabinets

Childproofing the Kitchen

Enter Today to Win One of Two Fire Pits from TRUE VALUE

Today, December 24, is the final day of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win one of two (2) Four Seasons Courtyard Wood Burning Fire Pits from True Value, each valued at $109 (MSRP).  But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

The Four Seasons Courtyard Fire Pit features a decorative stamped tabletop, cast iron legs, and a porcelain-coated fire bowl. Measuring 35″ diameter, the wood burning fire pit comes with a mesh fire screen and poker, and can easily be converted from outdoor fire pit to decorative table by adding a center cover.  The perfect addition to any patio, deck or open outdoor living area.

For official rules and entry, click here.

To see more True Value products and find a store near you, visit the company’s website.


Quick Tip: LEED-Certified Means Green Building

LEED and Green Buildings

Photo: pdx.edu

What is LEED Certification?
As green building hits the mainstream, you’ll continue to hear many new terms. One of them is LEED certification. L-E-E-D, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a set of green building techniques and standards that make it easier for state and local governments, builders, architects, designers and homeowners to build sustainable and healthy buildings.

LEED certification program standards are set by committees selected from all parts of the building industry and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. These standards can be used in both existing buildings and new ones.

How Are LEED Ratings Determined?
LEED rates the whole building in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. 

Why do LEED-certified buildings save money and energy?
LEED-certified buildings conserve energy and water and cost less to operate. They send less waste to landfills and less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Best of all, they’re healthier and safer for the people who live and work in them. As an added bonus, LEED-certified projects also qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives in hundreds of cities nationwide.

LEED certification doesn’t just make homes, schools, commercial buildings and neighborhoods more efficient and healthy. It also makes them more profitable and enduring. So, hiring a LEED-accredited professional for your next big project can be a win-win situation.

Today’s Holiday Give-Away from LOWE’S

We'll tell you why you should get acquainted with this new term if you want to live in a sustainable and healthy building.

Today, December 23, is day twenty-three of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win a $1,000 Gift Card from Lowe’s. But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win. (This is the fourth and final Lowe’s Gift Card of the contest period.)

Imagine starting the New Year with a $1,000 shopping spree at Lowe’s to spend at your local store or on the company’s well-stocked website. Whether your project is large or small—tool, material or product-specific—Lowe’s is the place to shop for all of your home improvement/DIY needs.

And, don’t overlook the opportunity to make your home-related projects a family affair. The Lowe’s Build and Grow clinics, held on average two weekends a month at store locations around the country, offer parents and adult mentors the opportunity to teach their children basic DIY skills and build confidence in the bargain.  The clinics challenge kids to a simple woodworking project that they can take home.  Each participant receives a free apron, goggles, a project-themed patch and a certificate of merit upon project completion. The clinics are recommended for children in grades 2 to 5 and provide hands-on instruction to approximately 50 children.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see tomorrow’s prize—the last of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To find out more about Lowe’s products and services, including the Build and Grow clinics, visit the company’s website.