Severe Winter Weather Awareness Week: Preparing your home for winter weather

MADISON, Wis. — In Wisconsin, winter is a fact of life, but it can be a difficult or easy experience based on how well you prepare.

Indoor shelter is the best defense against the cold, but Mother Nature can also wreak havoc on homes and businesses. How you winterize your home could be the difference between an easy winter or a long and expensive one.

“I would work inside out on your house,” Eric Willman, a personal builder with Veridian Homes, recommends. “There’s a few things that are easy to check inside your house to make sure you’re ready to go. Then (check) some of those systems outside before the cold really sets in. That’s what makes this a great time in the fall. Go outside and make sure you’re ready to go.”

One threat to pay particular attention to is frozen pipes.

“If your valves are in line with the water line running up, that means they’re on,” Willman said. “If they’re perpendicular to the waterline, that means they’re off. So we just shut the hose faucet lines out to the outside.”

Homeowners should also pay attention to hose faucet lines that run outside, he said.

“We actually want to open up that hose faucet just to relieve any little bit of water that’s in there,” Willman said.

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Properly heating your home not only keeps family members warm but protects pipes, too.

“If the furnace can’t breathe, it’s not going to make heat, too. So you might be calling for heat on your thermostat and if your furnace
isn’t kicking on, the first place to come and check is to make sure you have a clean furnace filter,” he said.

While the cold can be intense during Wisconsin winters, so can the winter storms.

If snow and ice cause power outages, some homes with gas fireplaces may have a battery-backed source of heat.

“If you do have a gas burning fireplace insert, check and see if it has a thermostat function and then make sure it has the appropriate batteries and that can be a stand-in heat source if you lose power in a power outage situation,” Willman said.

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Though major blizzards don’t happen every year in Wisconsin, snow, cold and high winds do.

The way that piles up on the outside of your home could also impact the heat you feel inside.

“If we have a pretty significant snow event or really high winds, you want to come out and check and make sure that snow hasn’t drifted up against the intake,” Willman recommends, “because, again, the sensors inside the furnace, if it can’t breathe, it’s not going to make heat.

As the winter snow and ice accumulates, sometimes damming is unpreventable. Taking a roof rake to where the shingles meet the gutters can go a long way in easing the situation.

“If you keep those first few feet clear with your roof rake, you’re going to be in great shape,” Willman said. “Eventually your ice damming will take care of itself.”

When it comes to treating the driveway, not using salt or de-icer on concrete can save time, money and future trouble.

“Sand, kitty litter, it’s safe for your concrete. It provides a little bit of grit and great traction, and, again, it won’t pit or spout your concrete at all,” Willman said.

While there are many things homeowners should do to prepare for winter, Willman said there is one thing in particular not to do.

“Covering (your air conditioner unit) with a blanket or insulation like that can actually encourage pests into your air conditioning unit, and then will cause you some grief in the summer when you’re going to need your air conditioning,” he said. “You really can leave your air conditioning unit alone. It’s going to handle the winter weather just fine outside.

Editor’s note: This week is Winter Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin, and over the next few nights, our weather team will get you prepared for winter’s worst weather.