Fall is the perfect time to think about winterizing your home. This is something that should be done every year for any home, but it is especially important for those who live in an old house.
Old houses are notorious for having less-than-adequate insulation. Even if the insulation is brought up to par, there are often other problems, such as wonky plumbing or drafty windows. Short of replacing everything with modern energy-efficient products--and risking the historical value of your old house--getting creative with winterizing is the name of the game.
Start with plumbing
Ah yes, the bane of winter in an old house. I have lived in modern homes and older ones, and it seems the older the house, the more likely the plumbing was to go belly-up during the winter. It wasn't just frozen pipes, though there is certainly more than a fair share of those. It seemed like snow on the ground always equated to anything from that awful "knocking" in the pipes to water leaks everywhere.
To winterize the plumbing in your old house, start by inspecting it. Pay special attention to lines that run anywhere they could freeze, such as those that are under the crawl space or near outer walls. These are the areas that may need extra heat in the winter. In addition to wrapping pipes with heat tape or insulating foam strips, ensure all connections are solid and sound.
On the worst days of winter, have a small heater available to run in the rooms that need extra heat, such as that tiny bathroom on the ground floor. You know, the one that's the size of a postage stamp but has all the serious plumbing!
Winterize windows and doors
An old house lover doesn't want to replace those beautiful windows, so how can they be made more efficient? Seal up drafts with weather stripping and window caulk, and consider blow-in insulation if that will work with your particular windows. "Shrink wrap" sheets of clear insulation might help; these are usually applied with the heat of a blow drier and can be easily removed in the spring.
You should also go old-school and block things up the way those who originally lived in the house probably did. Heavy drapes are your friend! Draft blockers (sometimes quaintly called "draft dodgers") are designed to sit at the bottom of doors to block drafts, but they also work on wide windowsills. If none of these bring relief, it might be time to talk to a contractor about how to better seal up the drafts around windows and doors.
To properly winterize any home, handle issues outside during autumn. Clean out the gutters to avoid ice dams from forming on the roof. Trim back any trees that haven't fared well during the summer storms; heavy winter snows and ice can bring damaged branches down fast. Think about the future, too--consider where the winter winds blow hardest and evaluate whether a windbreak of shrubs or small trees in that area could help. This might cut down considerably on the cold air buffeting your windows and doors.
Prepare yourself for winter
Finally, don't forget what you can do to keep yourself warm and safe during the winter season. Area rugs are kind to feet on hardwood floors. Small space heaters can warm up areas that a big furnace or stove just doesn't seem to touch. A cup of hot chocolate works wonders to heat you from the inside out, thus allowing you to shave a degree from the thermostat setting.
From adjusting the ceiling fan direction to pulling out the old, heavy quilts to cooking in the oven more often to radiate some heat throughout the house, there are many ways to make your old house as cozy.