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12 Ways to Help Your Home Survive Extreme Cold

February 18, 2015

It is not often that Nashville experiences extreme cold weather for several days in a row, so this year has been quite unusual in that regard.  Everyone is worried not only about staying warm, but the increased energy costs associated with the extreme cold.  Here are some tips that will ensure your home or business remains warm, and keeps your energy bills low, despite the frigid cold temperatures.

  1. Get a tune up.  The best defense against heating problems is to make sure your system is maintained year-round.  Having heating equipment serviced once before the heating season and once before the cooling season can reduce your heating bill and prevent costly repairs, breakdowns, and ensure your system is operating at peak efficiency.
  2. Clean/change the filters.  Dirty air filters reduce your system’s efficiency and thus can cause your system to work harder.  Replace air filters regularly a minimum of every 3 months – and do not block air inlets or outlets with furniture or drapes that restrict proper airflow.
  3. Use a humidifier.  During cold weather, increased use of your heater causes the home and its interior air to become dryer than usual.  A humidifier can help add needed moisture, and can also improve health issues like dry sinuses, while saving energy.  Since moist air holds heat, you may feel more comfortable at a lower heat setting.  Be sure you maintain the humidifier properly: clean or replace the filters regularly and wash the base and reservoir.
  4. Resist using the fireplace unless it’s an emergency.  Fireplaces can waste a lot of energy, as they pull warm air out of the house and force it out through the chimney.  Make sure the damper is closed when you’re not using your fireplace.  Installing glass doors can also help keep heat in your home when the fireplace is not in use.
  5. Use exhaust fans sparingly.  You lose heated air through exhaust fans, so turn them off when not in use during colder weather.  Not only do they pull heated air out of your house, but they can also cause negative pressure inside your home that can lead to back drafts from your fireplace and can cause drafts through the walls, windows and un-insulated outlets in your home.
  6. Prevent the drain line from freezing.  If you have a high efficiency furnace, there is a drain line that runs from the unit to the outside or into some kind of drain.  Know where that line is and make sure it is protected from freezing.  A frozen or plugged up drain line will cause your furnace to shut down.  If it does freeze, thaw it out (use a hair dryer, never an open flame!), turn off the breaker to your furnace, and turn it back on again to reset it.  It should fire back up.  If you see water around your furnace, chances are the drain line is plugged up at some point, and must be cleared.  Check out our previous post about condensate drainage here.
  7. Address non-HVAC-related air flow issues.  Close up any drafts, seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors (good weather-stripping or caulking usually does the trick), replace old windows or install window insulation kits, and look for places where heat may be escaping and/or cold air is rushing in.  Lack of adequate attic insulation is the main reason heating bills can climb sky high, so extra attic insulation is a good investment.
  8. Take advantage of natural heating.  On sunny days, adjust blinds so they are open and tilted toward the ceiling, but be sure to close the blinds at sundown.
  9. Be prepared for power loss.  In extreme cold, the power grid can get overloaded, and winter weather (snow and ice) can bring down tree limbs and cut power lines.  Keep candles, matches, blankets, flashlights, and a battery-powered radio handy.  When utilizing alternate heating sources, such as your fireplace or wood stove, take the necessary safety precautions.  Keep a fire extinguisher handy and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.  Never run the fireplace without first opening the damper!
  10. Give the HVAC unit breathing space.  Do not store anything too close to your indoor HVAC equipment, and definitely do not store anything flammable – paint, paint thinners, rags, glues, gasoline, cleaning solvents, and other chemicals – near your gas furnace or gas water heater.  Not only is it a safety hazard, but HVAC systems need air in order to burn properly and to draft, or carry the harmful by-products of combustion out the flue.  So, remove the clutter.
  11. If you are going away for an extended time, don’t switch the heat off!  Leave it on a low setting to ensure nothing freezes.  Water pipes that break from being frozen cause major damage.  Have a neighbor check on your home while you’re gone.
  12. Carbon monoxide is deadly.  One of the biggest threats from the cold is carbon monoxide poisoning.  Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill quickly if it builds up in a home.  Symptoms are nausea, headaches and disorientation.  Carbon monoxide is produced by heating systems as a by-product of combustion.  Make sure your heating system is properly ventilated.  If you are heating up your car in the garage, make sure the garage door is open and close any access to your home.  If you find yourself stranded in your car, make sure your tailpipe is clear of snow, or the carbon monoxide can flow back into your car.