Home & Garden

Getting Ready for Winter’s Wrath

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Is your home ready for the snow and those dreaded subzero temperatures? Local experts offer advice on how to protect your home from Old Man Winter.

There are plenty of things you can do to save money while keeping warm inside our homes this winter.

There are plenty of things you can do to save money and keep warm inside your home this winter.

Winter brings holiday fun, but it also brings special challenges to homeowners.

In fact, wintry weather is good at creating problems you didn’t know you had, like a leak in the ceiling corner, which may have been caused by a lack of insulation or a leaky roof.

Many homeowners forget basic, yet easy maintenance steps, this time of year, which may end up costing them more in repairs, in the long run.

Here, local experts offer tips to help you stay warm and comfortable in the winter months, and to protect your property.

They say now is the time to look around your home, determine the problem spots and take the necessary steps to fix them before the cold comes calling.

Replacing Drafty Windows

Scott Williamson, owner and operator of Window World of Rockford, 1625 Sandy Hollow Road, says there are plenty of things homeowners can do to reduce the cold draft that seep through windows.

He suggests is buying a good-quality aluminum storm window.

“Storm windows can do a good job of reducing the amount of air infiltration coming into your home, which will reduce your utility bills,” Williamson says. “The down side to storm windows is that they may not be aesthetically pleasing, and are very difficult to clean. You may also want to get a price on replacement windows because you might be surprised that they may not cost much more.”

If you don’t want to upgrade the windows in your home, Williamson suggests making a trip to a hardware store to purchase weather stripping.

Sometimes, simple household items can also do the trick. Williamson says winterizing your windows with plastic is an inexpensive way to stop heat loss and lower your gas bills this winter.

“Plastic, if applied correctly, is a good alternative for reducing air infiltration,” Williamson says. “The key is to apply one continuous piece of plastic and don’t use staples to secure. Instead, use a continuous strip of tape to secure the plastic on all four sides.”

Spray foam is another option, but not just any spray foam will do the trick.

“They key here is to purchase the right kind,” he says. “Be sure to buy spray foam designed for replacement windows. This limits the amount of expansion and it will not damage or distort the frames or sashes of the window.”

The spray foam can also be effective in hard-to-reach places.

“Another very good secret is to remove the inside ranch casing. Most of the time, there’s a void between the window frame and drywall,” Williamson says. “This is a huge source of air infiltration. Replacement window spray foam in this area is very beneficial.”

If all else fails, another option is to seal the window shut.

“The best alternative and cheapest is to caulk and paint your old windows shut,” he says. “This works well, but obviously you can no longer open your windows.”

At the end of the day, if your windows are old, chipping or have fogging between the panes, it may be time for replacement windows.

“You may think it’s not in your family budget, but replacement windows will help save the money you are losing through your old windows and increase the value of your home,” Williamson says.

Furnace Maintenance

Your home’s furnace is the heartbeat of a comfortable winter. In order to keep that heart pounding, you should have your furnace checked at least annually, says Mike Buckner, a residential salesman at Rockford Heating and Air Conditioning, 1618 Magnolia St., Rockford. Don’t wait until the extra service calls come rolling in with the bad weather.

“Having your furnace cleaned and checked early in the fall is definitely not a bad idea,” he says. “If something breaks in the wintertime, it may take a while for us to get to you because we will have a lot of service calls and it can be tough. Once things in the furnace get dirty, you may have a hard time getting heat and that can stem from a small problem that could have been avoided.”

When homeowners take care of their furnaces and get them checked regularly, they not only stay warm during the bitter cold, but also extend the life of their furnaces.

“If you take care of your furnace and take care of the equipment, there’s no reason it can’t last 20 years,” Buckner says. “It can last between 15 and 20 years if it’s taken care of properly.”

Rockford Heating & Air Conditioning will be more than happy to visit your home and look at your furnace to make sure the motors are working correctly, and make sure the sensors are cleaned, among other things.

“We will check everything overall and make sure nothing has failed and, if it has, we’ll make the proper replacement,” Buckner says. “We want to offer the customer the best advice we can give them.”

If a furnace needs replacing, Buckner says high-efficiency furnaces can save people money in the long haul, depending on the product they buy and the size of their home.

“You can probably save $20 annually in an 800-square-foot home with an 80 percent efficient furnace and about $100 annually in a 2,000 square-foot home with a 95 percent, high-efficiency furnace. It’s really about the needs of the homeowner.”

While having a working furnace in the home can make things toasty, it can also make the air dryer, Buckner says. He suggests using a humidifier to bring healthy levels of moisture to the air, which will make your house feel warmer. With the added moisture, a 65-degree room feels more like a 70-degree room.

“Putting a humidifier in your home keeps you from having dry skin, a scratchy throat and a bloody nose,” Buckner says. “Having a humidifier in the home can also save you money.”

Furnace maintenance also comes natural to Bomar Heating and Air Conditioning, 444 Meadows Drive, Freeport.

Bomar technicians cover everything from equipment installation and servicing to fireplace repair, air duct cleaning, generator hookups and seasonal safety inspections.

Though Bomar specializes in Trane equipment, it services every model of furnace and air conditioner.

General Manager Jason Rowland recently said doing the “right thing” simply means showing up and sticking around.

“The industry standard is to do a job the fast, easy way and get out of there,” he says. “Even with larger companies, you see that, and you scratch your head about how they do things. We try to slow it down and do it right, and be there later on if customers need something.”

Bomar services customers in northwestern Illinois from Elizabeth south to Sterling/Rock Falls and east to Rockford. Its sister company, Allen Heating and Cooling Inc., 6576 Revlon Dr., Belvidere, is co-owned by Greg and Marilyn Freimuth and their services points east of Rockford.

Rowland maintains the long-term customer relationships at Bomar, but Freimuth oversees the big picture. They co-own Allen Heating and Cooling Inc. with son-in-law Thomas Howe.

As with any service business, customer satisfaction is essential to success, a fact Rowland always keeps in mind. It’s not uncommon for Bomar technicians to correct mistakes made by other installers.

We have a lot of customers who call us and say, ‘You didn’t put our equipment in, but can you take care of our service,” Rowland says. “We’re unhappy with the other guys.’”

Bomar guarantees its products well beyond out-of-the-box warranties. However, customers rarely need to invoke this 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.

“On the installation side of the business, if we can’t make a customer happy, we’ll take out what we put in and pay the customer back,” Rowland says. “We’ve never done that, and the reason is that we haven’t had to. We took care of any problems, so it never got to that.”

In over 40 years of business, Bomar has lost very few customers, says Rowland. He points to neighborhoods where entire blocks of residents, and their extended families, are Bomar customers.

“We try to maintain long-term relationships, and over the years, it’s been interesting to see how we’ve done work for extended families,” Rowland says. “At the time, I didn’t realize who was related to whom, but I know now that most of those customers came from referrals. If you don’t take care of someone, they’re going to give you a negative referral instead of a positive one.”

Keeping Your Home Insulated

Another way to keep your house warm this winter is to make sure it’s properly insulated.

How do you know if you need insulation?

“If you’re able to get up in your attic and if you see wood sticking out, you need insulation,” says Julia Swanson, operations manager for Saunders Insulation Specialists, 9016 Swanson Drive, Roscoe.

Unwanted drafts, mold and low air quality can come from poor air sealing, poor insulation or a lack of insulation.

The staff at Saunders Insulation Specialists can help to correct these issues and some issues can be resolved with a simple trip to the hardware store.

“Having insulation can insulate the walls in your home and make your place warmer,” Swanson says. “Some of the walls in your closet may not have insulation, which is why some of them may be cold.”

Moisture in a non-insulated room can lead to mold and mildew.

“That happens when there’s a lack of insulation or humidity,” she says. “It increases when temperatures go down because air holds moisture.”

In terms of finding the right insulation, Swanson says foam insulation will work best to seal cracks in a home.

“Foam insulation has the highest R-value (insulating power) per inch and it seals the home at the same time,” she says. “People can grab a can of spray foam at Menards and they can crawl into their attic and look for crevices and fill it.”

In addition to the attic, cold air may infiltrate from around light fixtures, ceiling fans and that electrical box in the basement.

“Wires come in through the walls and electricians have to drill a hole and when they do that, air could be let in,” Swanson says.

In the winter months, cold air pushes all the warm air the furnace generates upward to the attic, where it leaves the home through leaks. This happens because cold air has a higher density and moves through the home at lower levels.

This process, which Swanson calls “the stack effect,” is an important reason to insulate your attic.

“If you’re sitting in your home and you feel a draft, there’s a reason why,” Swanson says. “You have to seal up those holes, especially in the attic.”

Winter weather is coming. Save money and remain cozy this winter by preparing now, and meeting the challenge head-on.

Clearing Snow and Ice Dams

If snow and ice is not cleared from your roof, you could struggle with leaks, ice dams and cold air.

The experts at Lask Roofing & Siding, 1101 22nd St., Rockford, are able to offer assistance and advice on roofing needs year-round.

The business handles about 700 annual jobs, which includes roofing, siding and installing Gutter Helmet, a service they added in 2004.

Toby Lask, executive vice president, says there are simple things homeowners can do on their own to remove snow and ice dams from their roof, which form when water freezes in the eaves of your gutter, forming a dam that prevents drainage.

If left untreated, the ice dam will continue to build up on your roof and gutters. Water backed up from an ice dam can leak into your house through the windows or ceiling. Cleared gutters will allow rainwater and melting snow to drain properly.

One of the things customers can do is pull snow off the roofs themselves.

“After snowfall, try to use a roof rake to pull down snow along gutter edges to help water flow and help prevent ice damming,” Lask says. “Also, chop or chisel thicker ice dams to create drain trenches along valley bottoms and gutter edges to help allow air flow.”

Ice dams can also be removed by spreading roof friendly salt along the ice dams, Lask says. He also says not every bag of salt will work.

“Lots of ice melt salts on the market today are not roof friendly,” he says. “Be sure to check prior to applying the salt.”

Lask also has advice for people who have build up of ice or snow on other parts of their roof.

“Have a professional roofing contractor install a high grade, self-regulating heat cable along sections of your home to help build up of ice and snow,” Lask says. “A roofing contractor can also install a gutter protection system, that can also help prevent the buildup of ice and icicles.”

In addition, Lask also says homeowners should remove leaves, sticks and other debris from the fall out of your valleys, gutters and downspouts before the first snowfall.

Before doing any sort of roofing work, Lask said homeowners should use caution.

“There are many dangers and risks involved in roofing and winter weather,” Lask says. “Personal safety is most important and always seek a professional opinion prior to attempting any roof services.”

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