Old house winterizing: Be ready when the temperature drops

Jeffrey Anderson

Winter has arrived, and if you live in an older home in a region where temperatures can drop significantly, it might not be your favorite time of the year. Old houses can have unique issues that make getting through the winter months a challenge to say the least. The good news is that many of the potential problems can be averted by doing a little winterization of your cherished older home. Even better - quite a few of the preventative maintenance projects are DIY-friendly.

Getting your old house ready for Old Man Winter

Character, history, and beauty are just a few of the reasons for living in an older home. And in many instances, the much repeated adage "they don't build them like they used to" holds true. Older residences are often filled with intricate interior trim and casework that is seldom matched today.

However, there are a few areas in which many structures constructed in the past are lacking. Not meeting modern building codes and energy efficiency standards are two that can affect how well your older home weathers the winter. As the temperatures drop, here are a few areas in your house to check to ensure you're ready for the ice, snow, and cold.

  • Insulation - Were there months last year that you thought taking out a second mortgage to pay your heating bill might be in order? The solution might be as simple as beefing up your home's insulation. Very few older structures meet today's recommended R-values and some have little or no insulation. Blowing additional insulation into your attic can normally be done fairly easily providing there is access and can often be completed in a few hours. If you're a DIYer, the same type of insulation is available in bags. Do your exterior walls feel cold during the winter months? If you have wood siding, blown insulation can be added there as well by just drilling small access holes between the studs. The holes can then be plugged and are barely noticeable.
  • Doors and windows - If "where's that draft coming from?" is one of the most asked questions in your home during the colder months, it may be time to winterize your doors and windows. Depending on when your house was constructed, its windows might only be single pane. While they may keep the rain and snow out, that single piece of glass doesn't do much to stop cold winds. Installing Energy Star rated replacement or storm windows is the best answer to this problem, but if neither option is in your budget right now, window insulation kits can get you through this winter. The kits are available from numerous manufacturers such as 3M and Frost King and can be found at almost any home improvement store. Installation is very DIY-friendly and can often be done with a minimum of tools. The window insulation kits can be adapted for just about any sized window and are available for patio doors as well.
  • Fireplaces - Few things in life are as enjoyable as sitting in front of a warm rustic fireplace on a cold winter night. The stone or brick fireplace in your old house has probably provided comfort to many families over the years. But watching those flames might not be quite as soothing if you knew the fireplace was a potential fire hazard. The materials used to line chimneys in older homes can crack or develop leaks over time. In some cases, there may not even be a liner installed. If that is the case, all it could take is a hot spark escaping from the chimney enclosure into your home to start a fire. Any fireplace in an old house should have a thorough inspection by a fireplace expert before being used for the first time and should be cleaned prior to lighting the first fire every winter thereafter.
  • Water lines - The lack of insulation that can cause high heating bills in old homes can also lead to bigger problems: frozen water lines. And when those pipes thaw out, you may be doing some unplanned renovations that weren't in your budget. Repairing extensive water damage can get expensive very quickly. If you have water lines in any exterior walls or the attic, ensuring they are adequately insulated before temperatures drop below freezing is very important. Blown insulation can be used in both locations and in the attic, and fiberglass bats placed over the lines provide protection as well. If insulating the lines isn't possible at the moment, turning off the water and draining the lines in question is another option.

Your old house has more than likely provided shelter from the storm for many winters and is sure to do so for quite a few more. Following these tips should help you enjoy its comfort with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you've improved its safety and energy efficiency.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.

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