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Weathering winter



"The gutters have to be totally clean," says Mark Brick, and he adds that they should be cleared after the trees are completely bare of leaves.

Prepare yourself — winter is around the corner. How to stay warm and lower costs? Read on!

Peter Quale of Handyman Connection suggests using a roof rake, which is available at most hardware stores, to clear snow from your roof and prevent ice dams from forming. Heat from the attic, he says, will warm the snow and ice on your roof, and ice dams can prevent this melted water from reaching the gutters. Snow on upper decks should also be cleared for the same reason.

Sealing all exterior air gaps is important, especially for older homes. "Typically older homes aren’t as energy efficient," Quale says. "There are a lot of gaps." Buy a silicon caulk that is for exterior use, apply it anywhere on the exterior of the house — such as around windows or doors — where air might get in, and put weatherstripping around all doors. Quale suggests buying insulation for electrical outlets and switches — simply unscrew the faceplates and put in a little foam. "You wouldn’t believe how much air comes through those," he says. Quale adds that your furnace should have a "tune-up" and that all air filters should be replaced.

To help prevent rodents from entering your house, use a mortar repair caulk to fill any cracks in your foundation. Quale also recommends clearing your lawn of all grass clippings and leaves before the first snowfall, so that mice do not burrow beneath the snow and destroy your lawn.

Mark Brick, president of B & E General Contractors in Milwaukee, points out that where the water goes when it hits the ground is also important. He says to check the grade around the house — the ground should be pitched away from the foundation — and to make sure that the water spouts have extensions that are at least three feet long.

To keep ice dams from forming on your roof or in your gutters, Brick suggests buying electric heat wire or heat tape, which can be run down the valleys of your roof and inside the gutters to prevent water from freezing. He also has some advice regarding Christmas lights. While "it’s important to express your holiday spirit," he says, you should take the lights down after the holiday season has passed. The lights, he says, "create a webbing for the ice to stay in, and become a maintenance problem in your gutters."

Architect Ilmar Junge, of remodeling contractors Junge & Associates, points out, "If you’re not wearing a hat, all the heat goes out the top of your head," and he says the same can be said of a house. The most expensive measure, he notes, would be to have professionals pump insulation into your ceiling. If you have an open attic, however, Junge says you can lay the insulation yourself. He adds that the insulation should be at least 12 inches thick and should have a heat resistance factor of R38 or greater.

Another place to consider adding insulation, Junge notes, is in the space between the foundation blocks and the floor joists around the perimeter of the house, which can allow quite a bit of air infiltration. Homeowners, Junge points out, can perform this job themselves — simply cut pieces of insulation with a knife and stuff them into the space.

Installing new windows, especially low-emissivity, or "low-e" windows that reflect heat back into the home. If new windows are not an option, Junge recommends using plastic film on your windows. "Film at least keeps air from coming in," he says. Junge also extols the virtues of proper air circulation — your house should "breathe," he says — and a well-maintained heating system.