Winterizing Your Home: A Checklist for Californians

Dec 16, 2022
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While winters in California are often milder than those in other regions of the country, we do experience significant seasonal changes, which along with colder temperatures and rain can include major storms, frost, and even snow in some parts — all of which put added stress on your home. But by taking the proper steps to prepare for the rainy season now, you’ll protect your property from expensive damage while keeping it comfortable, safe and warm over the upcoming months. What’s more, you’ll preserve (or enhance) your home’s value, and may even spare your wallet from more sky-high energy bills this season. Before the next round of winter storms or frigid temperatures hit, refer to this checklist of tips to keep your home and its systems well-maintained throughout the season:

Make sure you have emergency kits on hand and that they are well stocked

Natural disasters often strike quickly and without warning, from earthquakes and mudslides, to fires and floods. And a good winter storm can take out your power in a flash. Make sure you have access to basic emergency items assembled together for your home, including but not limited to non-perishable food and a water supply, first aid kit, flashlight, backup batteries, blankets, fire extinguisher, cell phone charger, a multi-purpose tool, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, medications, copies of personal documents, etc. When it comes to food and water, the key is to have provisions for the entire family that includes a three-day supply for evacuation, and a two-week supply for the home. It’s fine to create a disaster supply kit yourself, but you can also opt to purchase pre-made kits from a variety of different providers. Find a complete list of essential items for survival kit supplies at the Red Cross.

Have your rain gutters and downspouts cleaned

Your gutter system plays an essential role in protecting your roof, walls, foundation and landscape by directing the flow of rainwater away from your home. When your gutters are clogged with debris, water can start to back up and ice may build up on your roof. This can lead to leaks, mold, structural problems and infestations. To prevent water-related damage, clear your gutters of any buildup of leaves, pine needles, twigs, shingle grit or other items, and rinse your downspouts with a hose.  Find a helpful tutorial on how to clean gutters and downspouts at The Spruce. But if your roof gutters are difficult to access yourself, it’s usually best to have them professionally cleaned. According to Gutter Cleaning USA, the overall average price for gutter cleaning in California is $227.45. Keep in mind that fees will vary according to your location, the size of your house and the length of your gutters.

Inspect and trim trees

A critical step not to overlook when preparing your home for the winter is to examine your landscape for any trees that could present a potential danger in a storm. Check your property for tree limbs or weak branches that could fall on your vehicles or power lines, and cut them back, away from your home. To protect your roof and siding, clear away any contact between them and your trees. Also make sure any leaning trees are sufficiently supported and aren’t apt to fall when the ground becomes saturated.

Get your furnace inspected and tuned up

It’s advisable to schedule routine maintenance with an HVAC technician each year before winter sets in as a health and safety precaution, but also to keep your furnace running as efficiently as possible. Doing so can reduce your energy bills and prevent hazards including fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Regular maintenance will also help to keep better quality air circulating in your home and extend the lifespan of your furnace. Be sure to check your air filter regularly, and clean it or replace it if it looks dirty. Find instructions on cleaning or replacing your filter at HomeAdvisor. In addition, installing a programmable thermostat can be an effective way to help lower utility bills.

Have your chimney cleaned

There’s nothing quite like the cozy warmth and glow from a crackling fireplace to create an inviting ambiance in your home over the holidays. But before doing any fireside entertaining, be sure to get your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional. An annual chimney cleaning prevents soot fires and gas emissions in your home, and it will enable you to heat your home more effectively using your fireplace.

Air seal your home to reduce energy leaks

Anyone who’s already experienced the sticker shock of getting an electric bill that’s doubled or tripled this season won’t be surprised to hear that space heating and air conditioning are the largest energy expenses for most homes in the U.S. And in California, where electricity rates are among the highest in the country, taking the time to seal up air leaks that form around doors and window frames, baseboards, lighting, plumbing fixtures and other areas of the home can translate into noteworthy savings on your monthly utility bills. Generally speaking, the most effective way to do this is by caulking and weatherstripping, or by hiring a retrofit installer technician to seal up openings.

For help in finding and fixing energy leaks in your home yourself, visit “Air Sealing Your Home” from the Department of Energy. Another option is to have a certified professional do a room-by-room assessment (often including a blower door test and thermographic scan) and a review of your past utility bills. In addition, you may want to consider replacing single-paned windows with more energy efficient, dual-paned glass that can enhance the curb appeal and resale value of your home. If necessary, you can also add extra insulation in your home, either by hiring a contractor or doing it yourself.

Winterize your pool

If you have a pool, preparing it for the winter season will keep it in good working condition and protect  it against damage, while also saving you time and money on maintenance and supplies. You’ll want to clean the pool thoroughly, and balance the water by checking the pH levels and adding the appropriate chemical solutions as necessary. Also be sure to clean the filters, and inspect your equipment. When it comes to pool coverings, safety covers offer the most protection against debris and from people or animals falling in, but they also have to be secured and are more costly than standard winter covers. In addition, an optional freeze protector can help to keep water circulating when there is a drop in temperature, preventing pool water from freezing. Find more tips at “How to Winterize My Pool in California.”

Test you smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

House fires and carbon monoxide poisonings are a major hazard to stay alert to in winter months, when heating systems are highly utilized and windows are closed. According to a report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly three out five deaths from home fires were caused by fires in properties with no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that failed to operate. Carbon monoxide-related studies have demonstrated similar findings, and the facts are that carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless and deadly. If you’re lacking either a smoke or carbon monoxide detector (or 2-in-1 combination), it’s usually best to get the help of a certified electrician to install them, who can ensure the job is done correctly and up to code.

In general, you should check your smoke alarm every month by pressing and holding the test button. If you don’t hear a loud sound after a few seconds, try replacing the battery, and test the device again. If it still doesn’t sound or the sound is not loud enough, there is likely a problem with the detector and you’ll need to replace it. Testing a carbon monoxide detector is similar to a smoke detector and it should be done regularly as well: press and hold the test button, wait a few seconds, and you should hear two beeps. Find more help at “How to Test Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Testers.”

Finally, if you’re ready to start tackling your to-do list to get your home winter-ready, but aren’t sure where you’ll get the funds between holiday gifts, travel and entertaining, a home equity line of credit  (HELOC) from The Police Credit Union could be the perfect answer. A HELOC is one of the most popular ways to finance a home improvement project, offering a number of important advantages including access to a large amount of money over an extended period of time. Moreover, HELOCs tend to come with an annual percentage rate (APR) that is significantly lower than that of many other financing options, and they can offer potential tax advantages to those who meet the eligibility criteria. Our HELOCs feature an introductory rate of Prime minus 1.00% for the first 12 months, as well as an enhanced approval process to get you the funds you need fast. Find details and apply here.

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