Living Smart: To fully winterize, look outside the home

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Itís wise, before the snow flies (or as soon as possible if flakes have already flown), to take the time to prep your home and property for winter. We hear often about emergency service calls that could have been avoided if homeowners had taken time to winterize or to hire help to get it done.

Some advice is pretty much perennial. Each year, we remind people to inspect their homes, inside and out. From the roof to the foundation, check that everything looks ready to weather a big freeze or snowstorm. For example, gutters and downspouts should be clear, the chimney should be clean and safe, exterior and interior gaps and cracks should be sealed to keep out pests, cold air and moisture, and you should feel confident that your furnace is safe and efficient.

But have you considered winterizing components and accessories outside your home? Here are some things it pays not to neglect:

Irrigation system: Sprinkler pipes and other components can freeze and break when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. To prevent damage, shut off the systemís water supply. Wrap the main shutoff valve and any above-ground piping with self-stick foam-insulating tape or foam insulating tubes. These are easily found at home supply stores.

Shut down the controller. Most have an "off" or "rain" mode that stops signals to the valves, but allows the timing system to continue so you donít have to reset the programming later.

If you live where deep freezes can occur, drain water from the underground pipes through the manual drain valve, automatic drain valve or compressed air blow-out methods. When in doubt about how to do it, consult a reputable irrigation specialist.

Landscaping: Once temperatures hit the freezing mark and plants die, cut perennialsí stems an inch or two from the ground. Consider mulching with a few inches of hay, straw or pine needles.

Cover newer trees, shrubs and perennials with 2 to 3 inches of shredded bark, chopped leaves or other organic matter. Make sure the ground is frozen before covering. Mulching will help warm ground retain heat, which may encourage top growth that could later be damaged or killed.

In-ground water gardens or ponds: If leaves are still falling, cover with netting to keep them from accumulating, since decomposing leaves emit gases that can harm fish and plants. Donít allow a fish pond to freeze over; fish need a basketball-sized hole where they can get oxygen.

Outdoor hoses and lines: Water left in garden hoses or other lines and pipes can freeze, causing damage or even bursting. Turn off water spigots and water shutoff valves to hoses. Remove attachments like sprinklers or spray nozzles, and disconnect hoses from water spigots or air conditioning units.

Un-kink hoses and let them drain completely. Looping a hose in a circle prevents kinking during storage and may push out any remaining water. If you can, store hoses indoors or near the house, in a large bucket or on a hose hanger.

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