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It's Time to Winterize

  • Mary Hunt Debt-Proof Living
  • 2008 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
It's Time to Winterize

Now is the time to winterize not only your home and car, but also your gasoline-powered equipment such as lawn mowers and chain saws.

Your home

Wallhangings. A quilt or decorative rug will insulate interior walls, keep your room cozier, and allow you to turn down the thermostat a few degrees in the winter without a noticeable difference.

Fireplace starter. To make a fireplace log starter, stuff the cups of a paper egg carton with lint from the dryer. Melt paraffin or an old candle, pour the wax over the lint and allow to harden. Cut into sections. To use, place one of these neat fire-starters under the logs. Light it and it will burn for about 20 minutes.

Chimney clean-out. If you use your wood-burning fireplace frequently, you must clean the chimney to prevent a build-up of creosote, the cause of chimney fires. Get a professional inspection and evaluation.

Firewood. A full cord of firewood is a stack that equals 128 cubic feet. Although usually defined as 4'x 4'x 8', it can be an equal dimension such as 2'x 4'x 16'. A face cord is a stack of firewood where the "face" is the traditional 4' x 8' but the depth may be any number of feet depending on the size of the logs. When you purchase firewood, make sure you get a full cord.

Cheap firewood. If you live near a national forest, you may be entitled to several cords of firewood for a small fee. Check with your regional office of the U.S. Forest Service. Warning: It is illegal to pick up firewood in a government-owned forest without a permit, so don't skip that part.

Newspaper logs. Make homemade fire logs for the fireplace: Stack some folded newspaper, alternating the folded sides, until the stack is about 1 inch high. Don't use colored stock. Roll the stack as tightly as you can. Hold it together with wire. Don't use string because it will burn off and the paper will fly all over the place. When rolled and secured, thoroughly soak the "logs" in water and set them outside to dry completely.

Money up the chimney. Don't let heat escape up the chimney. Check for leaks and keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use.

Heat pump. If your home has a heat pump, there are several things you can do to make sure it is functioning at its best and not costing more than it should:

1. Make sure the outside unit is not blocked by shrubs or weeds.

2. Never stack anything against the heat pump or drape anything over it.

3. Hose down the outside unit periodically to remove dust, dirt, lint, leaves and grass clippings.

4. Don't close off unused rooms. That reduces the efficiency of the heat pump and the cost of replacing it will be far more than the small amount you'll save by not heating the whole house.

5. Clean and change filters and vacuum registers and returns monthly.

6. Don't block registers or air returns with furniture or drapes.

Dryer diversion. If your home is very dry inside during the winter and you have an electric dryer (never do this with a gas dryer), you can detach the vent pipe from the outside vent, cover it with a piece of cheesecloth or nylon stocking to serve as a lint filter, and redirect that wasted heat back into your house. You can buy a heat diverter attachment for about $7 at your local home center and install it yourself.

Charcoal in a bag. Fill a net vegetable bag with charcoal and hang in the musty basement or damp garage to absorb odors.

Doors and windows

A well winterized home is one that is airtight. Weather stripping is the best way to plug up all those energy leaks.

Detect air leaks. Shut the doors and windows. Move a lighted candle around the perimeters of the doors or windows. If the flame flickers you have an air leak. Plug it with caulk and weather stripping, available at any home improvement center.

Door Frames. Weather stripping is installed on the door frame except for door sweeps and some thresholds. You can weather strip your doors even if you're not an experienced handyman. Many different types of weather stripping materials can be purchased each with its own level of effectiveness, durability and degree of installation difficulty. The installations are the same for the two sides and top of a door, with a different, more durable one for the threshold.

There are three types of weather stripping:

1. Self-stick foam requires a knife or shears and a tape measure. It is extremely easy to install, invisible when installed but not very durable.

2. Rolled vinyl with aluminum channel backing requires a hammer, nails, metal snips and a tape measure. It is easy to install, visible when installed, and quite durable.

3. Foam rubber with wood backing requires a hammer, nails, hand saw, and tape measure. It is easy to install, but visible when installed and not very durable.

Door Bases. A door sweep is a flexible material that attaches to the bottom of the door and fills in the gap between the door and the floor. Installation requires a screwdriver, hacksaw and tape measure. Sweeps are useful for hard surface thresholds but may drag on carpeting.

Window Frames. Interlocking thresholds are very difficult to install, but produce an exceptionally good weather seal. Installation should be done by a skilled carpenter. Self-stick foam is practical on all types of windows where there are no moving parts.

Storm windows and screens. To keep track of where storm windows and screens go, draw a diagram of the house and number each window frame. Use a permanent marker to write the same number on the corner of the appropriate storm window or screen. Attach the diagram to the garage or basement wall and you'll never have to guess which window or screen goes where.

Battery change. Fall is a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Don't throw away the old batteries. They still have lots of life remaining and can be used in radios, toys, flashlights and games. To keep detectors operating properly, carefully vacuum them now.

Frozen pipe prevention. If a particular pipe in your home freezes regularly, allow the corresponding faucet to drip ever so slightly when subfreezing weather is predicted. If one freezes, open the faucet to release pressure from thawing water. Then apply heat with a hair dryer, heat gun or heat lamp starting at the faucet side of the frozen area.

Furnace filter recycle. Instead of replacing your furnace filter each month or as recommended by the manufacturer, vacuum it and then spray the filter with Endust. This will allow it to continue working effectively for at least three additional months
or recommended change periods.

Your car

Mechanical failure is inconvenient any time it occurs, but in the winter it can be deadly. Preventive maintenance is a must. Besides, a well-maintained vehicle is more enjoyable to drive, will last longer, and could command a higher resale price.

Engine. Get any engine problems like hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty air, fuel and PVC filters.

Fuel. Unless you live in the tropics, put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. You can discourage moisture from forming in the gas tank in the winter if you keep your fuel tank full.

Cooling systems. A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended. Check the owner's manual.

Windshield wipers. Clean blades with rubbing alcohol to remove gooey build-up; replace if torn or worn. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad winter blades to fight ice build-up. Carry an ice-scraper.

Windshield washer fluid. Pour three cups isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and one tablespoon liquid dishwashing detergent into a clean, gallon-size plastic jug. Fill with water. Label, cap tightly and keep out of reach of children. Use year-round as this mixture will not freeze.

Tires. Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Replace as necessary and always carry a good spare and jack.

Locks. Dab a little petroleum jelly on your keys and move them in and out of the locks to keep them working smoothly during the winter months. Petroleum jelly doesn't freeze.

Other. Carry emergency gear such as gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains and a flashlight. Keep a few high-energy snacks in your glove box. In a pinch your floor mats can help you get out of a snow bank. If your car gets stuck in the snow, slip one or more of the floor mats under the stuck tire(s) to provide the traction you need to get out. Don't forget to run back and get the mats unless to do so would place you or your passengers in harm's way.

Your small gasoline engines

Winterizing is a must because gasoline left in a lawn mower or chain saw engine's fuel tank and carburetor can degrade over time.

Gasoline can interact with air and moisture to form gums and deposits. Do not store gasoline in the engine's fuel tank for any inactive period longer than two months.

If the owner's manual says the gasoline can be removed and it can be done easily, the gasoline should be carefully drained from the tank (and carburetor, if possible) and collected in a clean, approved storage container. The collected gasoline can be used in your car. Any remaining gasoline in the system can be removed by operating the engine until it stops.

If the fuel cannot be drained easily add a gasoline stabilizer, following instructions on the product container.

Store your motorized equipment in a cool, dry place that is well ventilated and out of direct sunlight.

Check out Mary's recently released revised and expanded edition of The Financially Confident Woman (DPL Press, 2008).


Debt-Proof Living was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates.  Click here to subscribe. Also, you can receive Mary's free daily e-mail "Everyday Cheapskate" by signing up at EverydayCheapskate.com.