By now you have your home all prepped and ship-shape for the colder months of winter, right?
Yeah, we thought not.
If you’ve put off those tasks and are still hanging on to the last vestiges of fall, you’re not alone. Researchers at Harvard determined we procrastinate because (surprise!) we care too much about our present selves and not enough about our future selves, especially if the consequences won’t become apparent until way down the road.
“Each day, we are faced with hundreds of tiny decisions — the option to either take the easy way out and jump at instant gratification or to say no to temptation,” the study notes. “But it is increasingly the distractions we avoid that define our capacity for success.”
That said, here are 18 tasks Texans should think strongly about checking off their lists before the temperature plummets. After all, you never know when that thermometer might break tradition and sink below the 30s, and some forecasters are predicting a colder-than-normal winter in the Lone Star State (Polar Vortex, anyone?).
- Empty sprinkler lines: Using an air compressor and a basic quick-connect coupling, you can tackle this project on your own as long as you do it a zone at a time. Online videos offer step-by-step instructions.
- Shut off outdoor water: Disconnect and store garden hoses, draining the water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
- Clean out gutters: You can scoop the junk into a garbage bag using a hand trowel, rinsing toward the downspout with a high-pressure hose nozzle. Then clear the downspouts themselves with a hose or auger.
- Check your heating system: At minimum you’ll want to clean or replace your furnace’s filter, clean the blower, ducts and vents, and make sure your fan and thermostat are both working. Note that filters should be changed monthly during the colder season to ensure maximum air is passing through. If any sections of duct work have vibrated apart, reattach them with sheet metal screws and then seal joints using aluminum tape.
- Switch to a programmable thermostat: Costing between $20 and $50, these devices automatically lower the temperature of your home at night and while you’re at work. Note that every degree you lower your thermostat over the winter months can save 1–3 percent off your heating bill.
- Maintain your water heater: Your unit should be flushed twice a year to clean sediment and scale from the bottom (see your manual or online tutorials for walk-through instructions). Adding a $20–50 jacket (along with pipe insulation) can save you 4–9 percent in annual heating costs, and many experts recommend dialing down the setting from the standard 140°F to 120°F, the “warm” setting.
- Check weather stripping: Light a candle or incense and observe the direction of the smoke. To prevent drafts, doors and windows should have intact foam-based weather stripping that provides a good seal across all edges.
- Check window glazing: Many older windows are held in place with glazing that can crack or break. Clean out loose glazing, dust and debris, and apply one or two beads of silicon caulk to seal the glass against incoming air.
- Winterizing windows: Provide extra insulation via storm windows or the installation of shrink-wrap plastic in the inside.
- Replace batteries: Complete seasonal replacement of batteries in all your smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Clean your fireplace: Spread coffee grounds on the ashes to minimize potentially toxic dust, then open the flue. Lay down a tarp and don a respirator and rubber gloves before scooping the ashes into a pail. A circular metal chimney brush can be attached to your vacuum to remove creosote, and then bricks can be washed with warm water and TSP, vinegar water or a soot eraser. Spread the ashes on your flower beds.
- Inspect your chimney: Check for obstructions or damage, and ensure a cap is in place. Repairs are in order if the brick and/or mortar are crumbling, and cleaning is needed if creosote is one-quarter inch or thicker. You can probably accomplish the cleaning yourself with a long pole, a metal scraping tool and stiff brush that attaches, plus a vacuum and a respirator, but a certified chimney sweep will make it easier with professional-grade tools.
- Wrap outdoor pipes: Pipes in outer walls, crawlspaces or attics may also be susceptible to freezing. Surround them with correctly sized insulation tubes made of polyethylene or fiberglass, perhaps starting with heat tape to add an extra layer of protection. Make sure surrounding holes or cracks are filled with spray foam insulation and caulking. Note that keeping a faucet dripping when frigid weather strikes can also circumvent frozen pipes.
- Prepare to protect plants: Container-grown plants and tropical or semi-tropical plants can be damaged even if temps don’t drop below freezing. When cold is forecast, transfer movable plants indoors, onto a covered patio, under eaves or near the base of a large tree. Beds can be watered then draped with a layer of burlap or cloth covered by plastic film. Rocks, boards, bricks or soil should hold down edges, keeping wind out and allowing heat retention. Mulch can also help protect lower stems and roots from cold.
- Trim tree branches: Even in relatively balmy Texas, frozen temps and winter winds can wreak havoc by knocking branches onto vehicles and homes.
- Check for roof damage: Texas weather is notoriously hard on roofs, and the best time to find out about weaknesses is before the cold hits. Identify and fix holes or large dents in shingles or tiles, missing or loose shingles/tiles, cracked caulk, loose flashing or shifted siding or brickwork.
- Reverse your ceiling fans: Most have a simple switch on the motor that switches the direction to clockwise so warm air near the ceiling is pushed down.
- Get your holiday decorations: Whether to put them up this early is a highly controversial topic, but most agree there’s nothing wrong with putting up your outside lights while it’s comfortably warm, then refraining from turning them on until the season is closer. As for the rest, maybe just get them out of storage and conveniently ready to roll.
Lower-income Texans who need help financing their home winterization might check out the Weatherization Assistance Program offered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The program uses federal funds to reduce the energy cost burden for such residents through home energy audits followed by services like caulking; weather-stripping; ceiling, wall, and floor insulation; hole patching; duct work and the tune-up, and repair or replacement of energy-inefficient heating and cooling systems.
Ready to get cozy for winter? You’ll likely feel better after you stop procrastinating and get these chores taken care of. As evolutionary psychologist William James once said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”