Button  it Up!

Partner, Joe, and I finally got the pool liner folded, or rather, balled up enough to shove it in a huge plastic tub and drag it down to the basement. We’d disassembled the 18-foot round apparatus the weekend before but left the liner on the lawn to dry out. We had to keep flipping it over to get rid of the last remnants of water and the myriad of acorns that had fallen on it during the week. It’s a grueling job, trying to scrunch the whole thing small enough to transport, but luckily there were few curse words this year and the only thing a little worse for the wear was a toad that had been hanging out underneath it.

When our young dog, Miss Marple, discovered it, she picked it up and merrily ran with it despite our yelling for her to drop it. She eventually did as she realized that toad left a particularly bad taste in her mouth. I was fearing the worst for the toad as the dog was shaking her head, but I found the little guy nearby and it was still hopping, so hopefully it will be ok.

Now that the pool chore is over, what else do I need to do to button up the property for winter?

Everyone’s got a different list, but the most common goal is keeping the cold winter weather on the outside and the inside of the home warm. I say, start with your roof. It is the most important element of a house and often one of the prime candidates for deferred maintenance. Since our home is one of the biggest investments we’ll ever make, I’m often dumbfounded when I drive by a house whose roof shingles are cupped or so thin the roof resembles a washboard. Well, replacing a roof is outside most people’s skill set and it’s expensive to have a contractor do it… BUT… putting it off can lead to a myriad of problems that will eventually cost a homeowner even more in the long run. A roof has got to be a priority. If yours is less than 10 years old, you’re probably all set. If it’s in its teens, it’s time to have it inspected by a professional roofing contractor. If you know that roof needs replacing, plan on it sooner than later. Finance it if you have to, or better yet, take out a home equity loan while rates are incredibly low and just get it done.

Windows. Oh, the relationship we have with our windows. Weighing the options of replacing windows versus winterizing or repairing them. My house is a contemporary built in 1981 so it’s almost 40 years old. Frankly, it’s the “newest” house I’ve ever lived in. I grew up with and the first two homes I owned all had their original antique windows with triple-track aluminum storm windows that were probably installed between the 1950s and 1970s. So, when we moved into the current house, I thought, “Wow, how efficient are these double-paned Andersons going to be!” And, indeed for the most part, they still are. A couple have off-gassed — that’s where the vacuum-sealed space between the two panes has leaked and leaves the windows with a cloudy appearance. Unattractive and less energy efficient, an off-gassed sash should be replaced. Ahead of that for me, though, is to replace some of the hardware to operate the windows. They’re all that “crank-out” casement style and some of the arms have stopped latching on to the sashes; some of the handles of the cranks have stripped gears.

Do they all need replacing? Not in my opinion. I was thrilled to find a site for replacement Anderson window parts. Yes, those mechanisms are expensive but still only a fraction of what it would cost to replace them. If you’ve still got those old single-pane, double-hung windows with the triple-track storm and screen systems, take an objective assessment of them. Are they loose and rattly? Can you see the drapes rustling a bit on a windy day? Can you feel cold air getting in? Well, then, it might be time to bite the bullet and get those windows replaced. My parents were thrilled to get all the old 6-over-6 windows in their old Alstead farmhouse replaced with vinyl models. It certainly tightened the whole house up, though I personally was sad to see the antique, wavy glass sashes go. It’s possible to get old double-hung windows re-glazed with two sealed panes replacing the old, and those drafty columns of air in which the weights move up and down to be replaced with insulation. It’s also possible to buy higher-end, all-wood window units or steel-clad models if that aesthetic is important to you. But you might have to do it on a staggered schedule to not blow your budget.

I remember my Mom putting plastic over some of the windows in the fall and even wrapping the whole foundation of the house in plastic to keep out the cold when I was growing up. I always thought it was kind of tacky in my childhood mind but good for her for doing it! It was during the energy crisis of the 70s and my parents lived on a budget with four kids to raise. You do what you’ve got to do.

Another extremely important item to put on the list is a tune-up of your home’s furnace. I’m getting a year off from that task since we replaced the whole darn furnace late last winter. What I am doing, though, is getting the chimney cleaned. We have a dual wood and oil forced hot air system and burning wood creates creosote in the chimney. Eventually, if not cleaned out, that creosote can cause a chimney fire and you certainly don’t want that. For around $150, it’s well worth your peace of mind so don’t put it off… especially if you burn wood. I usually also throw a spoonful of that powder you can buy to rid your chimney of creosote onto the smoldering coals of the fire once a month. I have no idea if it really works but, hey, it’s about $8, so why not. I’ve also heard you can throw an aluminum soda can right into the fire for the same effect. Again, who knows?

Ok, so roof: check. Windows: check. Heating system: check. What else?

In your mind or on a pad of paper, think about some of the other more minor things that maybe need some attention. Has freezing pipes been a problem? Now’s the time to get them insulated so you’re not hunkering down in the crawlspace with a hair dryer come February. Do you use any electric heaters or other secondary heat sources? Are they safe? Do you need a better extension cord with surge protection?

Another difficult relationship I have is with caulking. To me, it’s a necessary evil. Caulking around windows and door frames is a good way to keep tiny air leaks out and you can usually paint it, so it virtually disappears. The caulking around tubs, toilets and sinks is another thing altogether. Over time, it often cracks, becomes brittle and fails. Or, it accumulates dust and grime and just looks nasty. Removing it and replacing it is a job too. And God help you if you ever get your hands on a can of that Great Stuff polyurethane spray foam for sealing cracks and other cold crevices in your home. It expands and EXPANDS! I’m pretty sure a neighbor a couple of miles down the road must have bought a case of it because I see the tell-tale browning globs of it seeping out around some of the clapboards of his house. Nice!

As the leaves are starting to fall outside, it’s time to get cozy inside, so start checking off those chores on your list before the real cold settles in. Then, say after the holidays, you can start thinking about some fun, fresh projects to take on indoors while you’re all snug as a bug inside your cared-for home.