Nailing It Down — Cold-proofing your house


Are you feeling the chill?

Our deadline for this column is too early to know if it actually has snowed yet, but the weather forecasters were certainly saying it was a possibility sometime over this three-day weekend.

Regardless of what ends up on the ground this time around, we know that temperatures have been low and that it is likely we will see more cold temperatures in the next two months sometime.

Never fear, it’s not too late to make yourself more comfortable and your house tighter in this cold. Here are some common questions for cold-proofing your house.

Q. When it’s cold, we often use alternative methods to help heat our house. Is there anything we should know about this?

A. Yes — please be extremely careful. There are many dangers lurking when using some alternative sources of heat.

Have you seen in this newspaper where several families now — at least two in Aberdeen and most recently a family of five in Hoquiam — were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning? In each of the cases they were using a gasoline powered generator to produce electricity to run at least heaters and lights, but the generator was not properly ventilated to the outside. The exhaust is colorless and generally odorless and will permeate your home and make you sick before you realize what is happening!

In each case, carbon monoxide can be deadly.

Be very careful if you need to use a generator. Make sure that it is not operating inside the home or garage and is well ventilated so the fumes cannot get into even the attic vents under the eaves.

Also, never use an open oven or a stove top to heat a room because they can overheat and cause a fire. The use of a propane grill or briquette-type barbecue inside of a structure is asking for a carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also, be cautious when plugging in electric heaters. They draw a lot of power and can easily overwhelm an undersized extension cord. If the cord feels at all warm it is too small a wire size or too long for the heater. The house may catch fire before a circuit breaker shuts off the power! If the breaker or fuse does trip, you have too much energy in that line and this is a very dangerous fire hazard. Start unplugging other uses on the same circuit.

Q. Are there other ways to keep the cold out, and the heat in?

A. One of the biggest ways to stay warm during the winter months is to make sure your house is properly “weatherized.”

Weatherizing, generally, means to properly weather-strip, insulate and air seal floors, walls, ceiling, attics, doors and windows. Using the industry and code standards will keep your house comfortable and energy efficient with the least amount of influence from the outside temperature. The savings will often pay for the cost over just a couple of years.

Properly installed weatherization measures can stop both cold air from getting into the home and heated air from escaping.

If you are electrically heated, call the nice folks at the PUD Conservation for a free energy inspection. They will recommend the best insulation measures for your house and you may also be eligible for a big rebate when you insulate to the PUD standard.

You will want to be careful about buying non-standard weatherization products from out-of-town companies promising to lower your energy bills over dinner.

If your house needs to be insulated, but you need a loan to get that done, we work closely with the PUD weatherization program and make tailored loans to income- and credit-qualified homeowners.

However, if you want to do something today to help you feel warm, adding layers of clothing creates immediate results. Then start checking your windows, doors, outlets, attic hatch and any other areas for drafts and plug them as best you can. (And don’t forget to close the fireplace draft, after checking for live embers, if you’re not using the fireplace!)

Q. Can I close my foundation vents to prevent heat loss?

A. Yes. Are you surprised? We’re strong advocates of ventilating your house to keep moisture at bay. However, we do recommend closing your foundation vents as long as the temperature remains below freezing. It will keep the house more comfortable and maybe save on your heating bill. (Just make sure to open them up again when the weather gets a bit warmer!)

Q. Can my pipes freeze when the temperature is at or below 32 degrees?

A. Yes. There’s never a bad time to insulate pipes. It’s fairly inexpensive and can help save money in energy costs. This and air sealing all penetrations with foam are also standard PUD weatherization measures.

However, what you’re probably really asking is “What can I do right now to prevent my pipes from freezing?” In extended cold spells one way to prevent a bursting pipe is to leave both hot and cold water dripping, preferably at the sink farthest from the hot water tank. This will help circulate the entire water system.

This may cost a little money in water and energy loss, but it will be a lot cheaper than replacing broken pipes and fixing water damage.

Also, if you haven’t done so yet, unhook your garden hoses and wrap your outside faucets. It doesn’t have to be fancy — an old T-shirt or towel, even newspaper covered with plastic bags and rubber bands will do the trick.

Another thought: If the power goes out during a cold storm, remember you can put your refrigerated stuff outside. (However, make sure to animal-proof it by hanging it or placing items in plastic garbage sacks inside clean garbage-type containers.)

Hold on, winter is finally here, but spring is coming.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.