Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

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Winter Survival Guide for Your House


Watch this video to find out how to prepare your home for winter by applying plastic film to windows, insulating attics and water pipes, and dealing with snow and ice. ...More




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Winter Survival Guide for Your House

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Shoveling snow on sidewalk in front of house.

Between freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and wind, winter can be hard on your house. Watch this video for tips on how to:

  • Seal cracks and gaps around windows, doors, and siding.
  • Install plastic window insulation kits.
  • Add insulation to your attic.
  • Insulate pull down attic stairs.
  • Apply foam insulation to water pipes.
  • Maintain your fireplace and chimney.
  • Apply deicers and anti-icers to walks and drives.
  • Prevent ice dams from forming on roofs.
  • Install a whole house generator to provide backup power.

Read episode article to find out more.

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Danny Lipford: This week, on Today’s Homeowner, we’re outlining a guide to winter home survival. There’s lots to consider in preparing your home for the chilly temperatures ahead. So, don’t move a muscle, unless you are grabbing an extra blanket.

The word survival can mean a lot of different things. And on this week’s winter home survival guide, we want to share with you some ideas on how you can keep your heating costs down, so that you can survive winter. And also look at some things you need to consider when the temperatures really get cold and you have to deal with a lot of snow and ice.

But first, to keep those heating bills down, you want to minimize the amount of influence the cold weather has on the inside of your home. And that’s very easy by just taking a slow walk around your house, grab your caulking gun and tube of caulk and look for any cracks in the envelope of your home. Now, there may be cracks around the windows doors, hose bibs, maybe a gas line coming through a wall, any penetration that you have in the outside wall needs to be sealed up.

And here is another great tip. Consider using a colored caulk that will match your brick or your siding so that you minimize any touch up paint that you have to do. You also want to make sure that the weather stripping around your doors and windows are in really good shape. And if you have obsolete, single pane windows, and it’s just not in your budget to replace them, well, Allen’s got a great winter window survival tip for you.

Allen Lyle: You know, Danny’s right. Sometimes replacing the windows just isn’t in the budget. So I’ve got a tip that’s taking an older idea, using some newer technology, we’re going to insulate the windows from the inside. My friend Ivan is going to help me out. Ivan, you got some leaky windows here.

Ivan Davidson: Indeed.

Allen Lyle: Well, what we’ve got is a window insulator kit. We’re going to shrink wrap these things.

Ivan Davidson: Okay.

Allen Lyle: So that we’re going to seal out any leaks inside or out. But you’ll still be able to see outside. It’s going to be really nice.

Danny Lipford: Allen has already cleaned the entire window casing. And applied some two-sided tape around the perimeter of the window. So, now he and Ivan are going to begin wrapping the window.

Allen Lyle: We’ve already got our tape up here. And what I have got Ivan, is just this… It’s basically shrink wrap. We’re going to stick this to the tape. What’s already on there.

Ivan Davidson: Wow.

Allen Lyle: I got a piece cut over there, if you want to grab that piece for me. I’m going to start at the top and if you can grab the bottom, and keep all the wrinkles, as much wrinkles out as you can as I put it up.

Ivan Davidson: Okay. I’ll try.

Danny Lipford: The beauty of these kits are that they are inexpensive, and besides saving energy, they help keep the house more comfortable when the winter winds start blowing.

Allen Lyle: Go ahead and press it right on to the tape. Perfect. All the way down. See what we’re doing is we’re actually going to wrap around the frame.

Ivan Davidson: Mmm-hmm.

Allen Lyle: On to the seal, and then tuck it under. And seal it down here.

Ivan Davidson: Right.

Allen Lyle: Then comes the fun part. We are going to shrink wrap it with a hair dryer.

Ivan Davidson: Okay.

Allen Lyle: That’s technology right there.

Ivan Davidson: Is that close enough?

Allen Lyle: I think so. Oh, yeah. It’s tightening up right there.

Ivan Davidson: Oh, yeah. Wow!

Allen Lyle: See the way it tightens up like that? That way it does not obscure your view at all.

Ivan Davidson: Yeah!

Allen Lyle: Isn’t that nice?

Ivan Davidson: That’s very cool.

Allen Lyle: Now I got to tell you, this is like putting make-up on an ugly woman. All right? It doesn’t stay on. Eventually it comes off.

Danny Lipford: While these two continue sealing up Ivan’s old windows, let’s look at another front in the battle against brisk winter weather. Cold air sneaking into your house can cost you a lot of money on your heating bills. But so does that same expensive heated air, being able to escape your living area. And this is one place that a lot of hot air can escape.

Now, your disappearing attic stairways only just has a thin piece of plywood on it preventing that hot air from entering into your attic. So to prevent that from happening, you might want to try this out. This is only one piece of three-quarter inch foam board. And we use the foil duct tape to create this little box. Just cut it up with a razor knife, put this together. Secure it right down to the opening and this creates a little air pocket or air cushion in here that’ll prevent that hot air from escaping your living area.

Now, another place that the same kind of thing can happen, that a lot of people just don’t realize, is around your duct work area where it enters into the back of your ceiling. So, just rake your insulation away. Look down into it, like this, with good light. If you have any gaps whatsoever there, seal it up with a caulk.

Now, any time you’re out in the attic and you see this. You see how it’s brown? Well, that indicates air is actually moving through there. And in this case, next to this air vent, which is an exhaust vent in the bathroom, there’s a sizable gap here. And the hot air pushing through there is pushing the dust as well as a lot of that hot air, completely escaping from your living area. So, use that same type of caulk to seal up this crack.

Now adding insulation to an existing attic that doesn’t have at least 14-15 inches is another good way of driving down those heating costs. So, if you don’t have enough insulation then just roll out another layer of unfaced fiberglass insulation running it perpendicular to your ceiling joist and that’ll really help out on driving those bills down.

Now, speaking of the duct work earlier, checks for leaks, make sure you have it turned on and the air blowing through it. And then check all the way back to the trunk line and the distribution lines, just throughout the system, and make sure there’s no cracks, and allowing, again, the hot air to escape this into the attic.

If you find anything, use the same type of foil duct tape, wrap it around wherever the leak is, then use a duct mastic to completely coat it so that you have a good long term fix to that problem.

Now, earlier Allen looked at a way to really seal out a lot of the air infiltration around a window. Joe has another method on this week’s Simple Solutions.

Joe Truini: If your home has double hung windows, you might be familiar with this sound. It’s the sound of an ill-fitting, rattling sash. Now even with the sash lock engaged, you can still sometimes get rattling. And that’s the sound of you wasting money because heated air and cooled air is escaping.

So the solution is to replace the sash lock. Go to the store and get a new sash lock but get two. We are going to replace one sash lock with two. I’ll show you how that works. I did that on this window earlier.

First, I removed the old sash lock. I’ll come back later and paint this and fill the holes. Then I installed the new sash locks to either side. About a third of the way in, or in this case, I centered them on the glass pane on either side.

And now when you engage two locks, you’re locking the sash together in two different places and it’s no rattle at all. And you’re saving money year around.

Danny Lipford: This week, we are trying to help you and your home survive the winter. And the next item on the list is plumbing. When the weatherman says the temperature’s really about to get cold, you have to be concerned with frozen pipes, which can lead to burst pipes. But there’s a few things you can do to prevent that from happening.

First of all, if you have any sinks on an outside wall, like a kitchen or a bath, make sure you open up those cabinets to allow the heated air to circulate inside those cabinets. Also, make sure you leave a little water dripping on one of your faucets so that water continues moving through those water lines. And the outside hose bibs, you can use an insulated cover to cover all of those up to prevent any problem with them.

Now the very best thing you can do if your house is up on piers like this, is to insulate all the water pipes underneath. And that’s what Allen and I are about to tackle.

Any kind of work under a house is dirty, but these disposable crawl suits make it a little less miserable.

All right, let’s give this a try. It won’t be too bad. Heck, there’s plastic under here. This is great. I don’t like this view back here, so if you can move along.

Allen Lyle: Sorry about that. Check this out, Danny. Right here.

Danny Lipford: What is it?

Allen Lyle: I think this is—the supply is going into the house—right here.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, that’d be good.

Allen Lyle: All right.

Danny Lipford: Let’s see. Sit up in here. I like these lights down here. Pretty cool. All right, let’s see. You got the scissors?

Allen Lyle: I do.

Danny Lipford: All right, right there. Let it go down into the ground a little bit. And then that one’s just about right for the other side.

Well, what do you think? Maybe that bathroom over there? Right over there?

Allen Lyle: Yeah.

Danny Lipford: All right. Well… Haven’t seen any varmints yet. That’s a good sign.

Allen Lyle: That’s because they are all in the corner saying, “Look at the big varmints coming in now.” All right, got another one here.

Danny Lipford: I wonder why those pipes are so vertical around here. They are coming up out of the ground everywhere.

Allen Lyle: They are usually coming across underneath all the floor joist system, but these are coming out of the ground.

Danny Lipford: Uh-oh, look at all that. Look at that big hole there.

Allen Lyle: Let’s see if there’s anything up in there.

Danny Lipford: I hope there’s not.

Allen Lyle: You know, critters get up in here, too. This is a perfect spot during the winter.

Danny Lipford: Well, I tell you, it’s a shame, though, that they leave just these big cuts like that…

Allen Lyle: Well, they did it every time, too.

Danny Lipford: …Without sealing it up. The only way to do it is to put something over it.

Allen Lyle: I got some roll flashing.

Danny Lipford: Oh, perfect.

Allen Lyle: You can cut a piece.

Danny Lipford: Hey, I’m coming back with it.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Danny Lipford: T hat ought to be just about right. Wow, what kind of shears are these?

Allen Lyle: Thunder shears.

Danny Lipford: Is this what they use to cut your hair?

Allen Lyle: You realize if we put that up then we start hearing a knock on the other side…

Danny Lipford: Yeah, we got a problem there.

Allen Lyle: We got a problem there, “Hey, let me out.”

Danny Lipford: Yeah, and see that bottom. The horizontal piece is down below it. So I got to slot it for that, for that whole thing, don’t I? All right, let’s see how close I am on this. Tell you what, I’m going to lay on the ground. Do you have any kind of pillow? Yeah, there it is right there. Yeah, I’m going to need more.

Allen Lyle: Yeah, little bit. Watch your head.

Danny Lipford: Don’t drip any of that on me! Got a feeling I’m going to need a Band-Aid here in a minute.

Allen Lyle: All right.

Danny Lipford: All right, all right. Okay, you want to hold it while I push it in place?

Allen Lyle: Yep.

Danny Lipford: Okay, here we go. Oh, yeah, look at that.

Allen Lyle: There it is.

Danny Lipford: All right.

Allen Lyle: What gets me though is, now that didn’t take us, I mean, what, 10 minutes tops.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Allen Lyle: Little bit of effort.

Danny Lipford: And probably five dollars worth of material.

Allen Lyle: Yeah.

Danny Lipford: All right, bring on the cold weather.

Allen Lyle: That’s right.

Danny Lipford: And as soon as the temperatures drop, somebody is going to want to start a fire in the fireplace. Now, while a blazing fire makes a cold winter evening more bearable, it can also be very dangerous. So it’s important, to have your fireplace and chimney inspected regularly by a professional. A certification from a reputable professional organization, like the Chimney Safety Institute of America is a good indication, that they are properly trained to evaluate the safety of your fireplace or chimney.

Another key to having a very safe fire in your fireplace, is to make sure you use the right wood. Hardwood’s always the best way to go. And make sure it’s seasoned, which means it’s been cut and drying for at least 6-12 months. Also any type of fireplace needs a fire screen. And you need to make sure there’s nothing anywhere near the fireplace that’s combustible.

Now, no matter if you have a fireplace or not, every house needs a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. One thing a lot of households just simply do not have is a very inexpensive fire extinguisher. They really don’t cost a whole lot. But what I would recommend is picking one that is rated for A, B, C type of fires. That would pretty much handle any kind of fire you may have around your home.

Hey, let’s check in with Jodi for this week’s Best New Product.

Jodi Marks: You know, I love hanging out in the tool aisle, but I love it even more when I can find a tool that helps me save money. And this right here by Ryobi will do just that. Now this is their power usage meter. And what this does is it helps you manage the power usage of all of the appliances in your home.

How does it work? Well, the first thing that you need to do is call your electric company, and find out what the rate is that they’re charging you per kilowatt hour. Then what you do is, you put that into this little computer here, and then you take this and you go around and plug all of your appliances directly into this. Now, you can plug it directly into the wall, or you can actually use an extension cord so that you can get to your appliances.

But after it calculates all of that, it will tell you what appliances are using the most power to operate. Then you can make a smart decision on what appliances need to be turned off, which ones need to be unplugged completely, and which ones need to be replaced.

And doing all of that, will definitely save you money on your power bill each month.

Danny Lipford: This week we are giving you a guide to winter home survival. And we’ve still got some work to do to get ready for cold weather. Man, can you imagine in the old days when this was the only way that you can stay nice and warm in your house?

Allen Lyle: Yeah, the problem is, the wood had nothing to do with keeping you warm. It was the action of cutting it.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I’m already feeling that. Hey, when it really gets cold, and you have snow and ice all around your house, you have a whole lot more to worry about than how much wood you have split. A blanket of snow creates a beautiful landscape, but it can also create a lot of problems for homeowners.

Even if it starts out fluffy and white, eventually, it becomes ice and that can cause real problems. Ice forms a bond with concrete or asphalt which isn’t usually broken by the use of your snow shovel or your snow blower. So you still have a slippery and dangerous mess. Now, the solution is in a de-icer, or an anti-icer.

De-icers go down on top of the snow or ice, not to melt the snow, but to break that bond between the ice and the pavement. Now, that of course makes it easier to remove the snow and it leaves behind a much safer walking surface. The anti-icers on the other hand, go down before the snow starts to fall and it works to prevent that bond between the ice and the pavement from ever even forming.

Another concern in these kinds of conditions is ice damming on your roof. Now this happens when the heat in your home escapes into the attic and warms the roof causing the snow on top of it to melt. Because hot air rises, only the top of the roof gets warmed, and when the melted snow runs down the roof, it turns into ice when it reaches the cold overhangs. Now after awhile the ice becomes a dam, pushing water back up the roof and under your shingles. Before long, you have a leak inside.

To prevent this problem, be sure to seal any area where warm air can sneak up, from the living space into the attic. Hey you also want to make sure that you have a continuous blanket of attic insulation that’s thick enough for your area of the country.

Now, while you’re at it, make sure that your soffit vents aren’t blocked with insulation. The soffit vents allow fresh air into the attic to keep your roof at a consistent temperature.

Now it may help to remove any of the snow from the lower part of your roof before it can contribute to an ice dam. But be very careful. Asphalt shingles are so brittle in cold weather and you can really damage them very easily. Use a push broom or snow rake to gently pull the snow off the roof.

Allen Lyle: Do you remember how cold it was that day we were out there?

Danny Lipford: Oh, man, it was about three or four degrees. I believe I had every piece of clothing that I owned on at that time. And so many of the homeowners were telling us about how they lose power all the time…

Allen Lyle: Right.

Danny Lipford: …because of the cold weather. And you can understand why they had a lot of the automatic home standby generators out there.

Allen Lyle: Oh, yeah. I mean, it made a lot of sense to me. You think about it. If you have a portable generator, that’s fine.

Danny Lipford: Yeah.

Allen Lyle: This makes more sense because these you know are going to start up right away.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Allen Lyle: What also makes sense is that you can rely on it because these actually will test themselves every week.

Danny Lipford: You know, I thought that was pretty cool, almost eerie. It suddenly cranks up and you don’t know what’s going on. Hey, when you’re selecting a generator for your home, there’s three different things that you need to consider. Three different levels that you can go with.

First of all, the essential circuit coverage which is just like the name says, it will power up those essential things that you need. When it’s really cold weather, you need heat. You always need light, and it’s great to be able to power the refrigerator, so that’s one level that will determine exactly what size generator that you need.

Allen Lyle: What I like is the managed whole house system.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

Allen Lyle: With that, the machine actually decides for you. If you need to use the washing machine, it’s going to crank in the watts for that. When it’s not running, the dishwasher, and when that’s not running, the furnace fan. This decides for you and manages the load. So you can still have the whole house on there but you can have a smaller generator.

Danny Lipford: That is pretty cool. And the thing about them is, the whole house units are a lot smaller than they used to be. I know years ago you used to see these big giant units. Now, a unit this size can handle a pretty large load. Well, it is pretty small, isn’t it.

Allen Lyle: Yeah. It’s a lot quieter.

Danny Lipford: Frank asks, “Do I really need to insulate my crawlspace?”

While insulating your crawlspace is not absolutely necessary, it will help a lot to minimize any of the moisture or temperature intrusions into your home. But to tell you the truth, it’ll take you a long time to get your money back on the money that you spend on insulating that crawlspace.

Far better to spend that money in the attic making sure it’s insulated well, and sealing up the envelope of your home. But if you decide to put insulation in your crawlspace, make sure you turn the paper toward the living space, so that you don’t create any type of moisture trap.

Now, moisture is a big problem in crawlspaces, so it is strongly recommended to put a moisture barrier right on the ground. You can use a 6-mil plastic, clear or black, then you can weight down the perimeter of it with some small bricks, gravel, sand, or just a little bit of dirt to keep it from blowing away.

This will prevent the ground moisture from migrating up into your home, which ends up costing you some money.

Danny Lipford: Surviving the winter takes preparation. And that’s what this winter home survival guide is all about.

If you weren’t taking notes, or you want even more ideas, be sure to check out our online guide, at todayshomeowner.com/survivalguide for in-depth articles, videos and more.

Surviving winter around your home is much like surviving anything else. It takes a little planning and a little preparation. Hopefully, the tips we were able to provide you on this week’s show, will help you actually enjoy this colder time of the year.

Hey, I’m Danny Lipford, this is Today’s Homeowner. Thanks for joining us, and I hope you’ll be with us next week.