As autumn gives way to winter, it’s time to tackle some maintenance tasks to keep you and your home cozy and warm during the cold weather ahead.
From the attic to the basement, this to-do list is packed with easy DIY projects that can make a big difference in your energy bills, as well as some outdoor maintenance to keep hoses and faucets from freezing.
And last, but not least, you can celebrate your success by hanging your holiday lights!
So grab your toolbox and get started on these December home maintenance chores.
Read on to find out more.
To-Do #1: Replace Furnace Air Filter
The air filter on your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system needs to be replaced every 1-3 months to keep the air in your home clean and flowing freely.
A high-quality air filter is the best choice to remove mold, pollen, and other microscopic particles from the air.
The air filter is usually found behind the air return grate mounted on a wall or in the floor. The filter may also be located in or near the air handler. Check out our article on How to Locate an Air Filter if you can’t find yours.
To replace an air filter:
- Turn the heating system off, and wait until it stops running.
- Remove the cover on the air return.
- Take out the old air filter.
- Write the date on the new air filter.
- Insert the new air filter in the return, making sure the arrow on the edge of the filter is facing in the direction of airflow. For filters with wall- and floor-mounted returns, the arrow should point in toward the return duct. For filters mounted in the ductwork near the air handler, the arrow should point toward the HVAC unit.
- Put the cover back on the air return.
- Turn the heating system back on.
To make it easier to replace next time, put a sticker on or near the return with the size filter you need to buy and when to replace it.
Check out our video on Changing an Air Filter to find out more.
To-Do #2: Check Attic Insulation
As the weather gets colder, it’s a good idea to check your attic to make sure you have enough insulation and add more if you don’t.
In most cases, you can add another layer of insulation on top of what’s already there, using rolls or batts of unfaced insulation or by blowing or spreading loose insulation. If your existing insulation is water-damaged or moldy, it will need to be removed and replaced.
If your home currently doesn’t have attic insulation, the easiest DIY method is to install batts or rolls of insulation between the ceiling joists.
Installing attic insulation:
- Choose insulation with a paper vapor barrier of the same width as the spaces between your ceiling joists.
- Wear long pants and sleeves, gloves, a dust mask, and protective eyewear. Some insulation can be irritating to eyes, lungs, and skin; so cover up as much as you can.
- Carefully unroll the insulation between the joists, making sure the vapor barrier is facing toward the heated area of your home. In attics, this will mean the paper backing should face down toward the ceiling.
- Cut the insulation to length by laying it on a scrap of plywood, pressing it flat with a straight edge, and slicing with a utility knife.
- Make sure the insulation fits tightly between the joists, but not so tight that it’s compressed, since the insulating properties come from the air spaces within the batting.
If your attic already has insulation and you’d like to add more, follow the same steps as above, but use insulation that does not have a paper backing to prevent moisture from becoming trapped between the layers.
Check out our video on How To Install Attic Insulation to find out more.
To-Do #3: Insulate Drop Down Attic Stairs
While you’re in the attic, don’t forget the attic stairs! Dropdown attic stairs are notorious for leaking precious heated air into the attic and reducing the energy efficiency of your home.
Attic stair access covers are made of thin plywood, and the construction isn’t very tight, allowing heated air to escape.
There are several ways to insulate attic stairs in your home:
The first step in any attic stair insulation project is to seal any cracks. Small cracks and joints can be sealed with caulk while larger gaps can be filled with expandable spray foam.
Another easy solution is to install strips of foam weatherstripping around the opening of the stairs. Cut the strips to fit the opening of your attic stairs, then stick the self-adhesive strips in place where the door meets the frame.
When the door closes against the foam, it’ll create an airtight seal that will cut out a lot of air infiltration.
Build an Insulating Stair Cover:
A more ambitious project is to build an insulating foam board box:
- Cut four pieces of foam a bit taller than the closed stairs for the sides.
- Attach the sides together into a box using metallic duct tape
- Tape the box down to the attic floor.
- Apply foam weatherstripping to the top of the box.
- Cut a piece of foam board for the lid.
- Attach the foam board lid to the box with tape.
Install a Ready-Made Insulating Stair Cover:
You can also buy and install a premade attic stair cover. These covers are made to fit standard sizes of pull-down attic stairs.
Some attic stair covers attach to the floor and are closed and opened with a zipper, while others are positioned over the opening in the attic and lifted off when access to the attic is needed.
To-Do #4: Disconnect and Drain Garden Hoses
Now is the time to head outside and drain your garden hoses before freezing weather arrives. Hoses left attached and full of water can be ruined if the water freezes and splits the hose.
Start by disconnecting each hose and removing any spray nozzles. Lift one end of the hose up and move down the hose to allow the water to drain out. Store the drained hoses in a shed or garage until spring.
If you need a hose for occasional watering during the winter, disconnect and drain it after each use. Make sure to remove or open the sprayer nozzle so any water left inside can expand and freeze without breaking the hose.
To-Do #5: Winterize Outdoor Water Spigots
It’s important to drain and cover outdoor hose faucets to prevent the pipes and spigot from freezing.
Winterizing outdoor faucets:
- In your basement or crawl space, locate the pipe that supplies each outdoor faucet, and follow it back until you find the shutoff valve.
- Close the valve controlling each faucet.
- Open all the faucets on the outside.
- Hold a bucket under each shutoff valve under the house, and open the small drain cap located just above the shutoff valve to allow the water in the pipe to drain out.
- Repeat this step with every faucet shutoff valve.
- Close the drain caps, and turn off the outdoor faucets.
Winterizing faucets without shutoff valves
If your home’s outdoor faucets don’t have shutoff valves, you may have frost-free faucets, which don’t require draining. These faucets are installed at a slight angle with the valve located inside the foundation to allow water to drain out of the pipe when not in use.
If you’re not sure if your faucets are frost-free, have a plumber check to be sure.
If your faucets are not frost-free, and you can’t shut them off and drain them, your best bet is to install an insulating foam cover. These covers fit on the outside of the faucet and cinch tightly against the house with a foam seal to help keep the faucet from freezing.
While insulating covers aren’t as effective as draining faucets, they can help keep your outside spigots and pipes from freezing when the temperature drops.
To-Do #6: Insulate Exposed Water Pipes
A frozen and burst pipe is a very unpleasant winter surprise, so it’s a good idea to insulate water pipes in a crawlspace to reduce the chance of freezing.
Insulating water pipes:
- Choose foam pipe insulation that matches the diameter of the water pipes.
- Cut the insulation to length with a box cutter or scissors.
- Open the insulation along the split edge, and fit it around the pipes.
- Tape any joints in the foam insulation together.
To-Do #7: Repair and Hang Christmas Decorations
Last but not least, it’s time to hang up those holiday decorations! Pull out your boxes, untangle the strands of lights, and give everything a thorough inspection.
Throw out any strands of lights that are worn or frayed. If your lights are the older incandescent style, consider replacing them with safer, more energy-efficient LED lights. LED lights not only use less power, but they last longer, stay much cooler, and are less of a fire hazard.
If you put the same decorations up each year, consider installing permanent hangers so you don’t have to reinstall them every year, which can damage the exterior of your home. You can hammer in small light hangers or cable hooks, or install self-adhesive bases and cable ties to hold strings of lights.