Baby, it’s cold outside! What to do inside

Here are four things to do to make sure you and your house survive a frigid winter night.

  1. Close and lock all your windows. They seal better that way.
    • Close draperies on cold and windy nights to reduce the feel of drafts that invite you to raise your thermostat temperature. If you have insulated drapes or shades, all the better! If you don’t get some next time you upgrade your curtains or drapes.
  1. Turn off your outdoor spigot. If you don’t it might freeze and break. It’s easy.
    • Find the shut off in your basement. Turn it all the way to the right, if it’s a knob; turn it perpendicular to the pipe, if it is a handle.
    • Then go outside and turn the outside faucet/spigot/hose bib all the way to the left, which is open. (If you turned it off inside, there will be little or no water coming out.)
    • Now, go inside and hang a tag or ribbon on the valve where you turned it off. That saves you a search in the spring.
  1. Keep an eye on any pipes that run on outside walls of your house on very cold nights.
    • Leave them dripping when temperatures are below 15 or so for more than a few hours.
    • If you have a sink with a cabinet under it, and that cabinet is very cold, leave the door open overnight, so the house heat can help prevent freezing pipes.
  1. Move furniture, rugs, and mats away from hot air heating and intake ducts.

About hot air heating systems:

This is something most people don’t know about, until it happens to them: you need to keep the air ducts clear if you want your furnace to operate efficiently. Since the grates are sometimes in the floor, this can be overlooked. Both the intake (where air returns to the furnace) and the heating ducts need to be clear of mats, rugs, and furniture.

Which is which? If the furnace is blowing in some grates, it should be blowing in all of them, except the intakes. (In some old houses, the systems get reconfigured so there are some grates that are no longer doing anything. Treat them like intakes, just in case.)

Don’t cover the intake grates. The intake grate is usually bigger than the grates that the heat comes out of. They are often in hallway (which make them tempting for places to put boots.) Blocking this grate decreases the efficiency, at least, and can cause worse problems if the air is cut off too much for too long. The furnace can stop working entirely if you suffocate it enough.

The mystery, solved: I found out about intake grates the hard way, as a landlord. Once upon a time, my tenants put a rubberized mat over the whole intake grate. That caused their furnace to stop working. The HVAC guy showed me what they were doing and tuned up the furnace while he was here.  Problem solved. He told me of other people with this problem. It’s common.

About radiator heat:

Clean your hot water radiators or baseboards before the beginning of the heating season. It will improve your air quality as well as the efficiency of your radiators. More on that next week.

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