Winterizing Your Southern California Home
During the long, hot summers, it is easy for Southern Californians to forget that we do actually have a winter. Sure, most of us do not contend with feet of snow or the temperature regularly dropping below freezing, but we all experience at least some colder weather, the occasional rainy day, and a bit of morning frost. Plus, we all know how much the temperature can drop after the sun goes down.
Folks who live in the mountains or inland areas experience winters a bit more like most of the country and do need to do some serious winterizing to avoid freezing pipes and make sure they are prepared to shovel snow. But whether you live in Big Bear or along the coast of San Diego County, we all can benefit from winterizing our homes. Making sure you and your home are ready for winter can save money on heating costs, help you avoid expensive repairs, keep your home functioning properly, and ensure that you and your guests can comfortably enjoy your indoor and outdoor entertaining areas.
To help you prepare your Southern California home for winter, here are some tips for winterizing your home.
Winterizing Your Home Indoors
Inspect Your Furnace and Air Ducts
When it is time to switch from air conditioning to heat, you want your furnace working properly. A simple way to test it out is to turn it on to heat, turn the thermostat to 80 degrees, and listen for the furnace turning on. Make sure warm air is blowing out of the registers. If the furnace turns on and warm air is blowing, it is likely functioning properly.
The next step is to replace your filters or, if your filters are reusable, to clean them. Clean air filters help your HVAC system run more efficiently and keeps the air in your home cleaner. Most folks in Southern California can change their filters just twice each year: once before heating season and once before air conditioning season.
While you are checking the furnace and changing filters, also remove any clutter that has accumulated near the registers or intakes, and, if you are comfortable crawling through the attic or crawl space, check the ducts for leaks while the furnace is running. You also want to look for any sections of the ducting that are pinched and obstructing airflow or that may have gaps that need to be repaired with metal-backed tape or duct tape.
Some folks prefer to have a professional come in once a year to service their HVAC system. If you go this route, they will change the filters, check for air duct leaks, and test the furnace, so you will not need to perform these tasks. They also may find issues not easily found by homeowners, so having an HVAC professional service your system could help avoid an emergency repair call later.
You will also want to have your air ducts cleaned every few years. If you have pets or allergies, you will want to do this more often.
Seal Windows and Doors
Sealing your home to avoid air leaks reduces heating and cooling costs and makes your home more comfortable. It also helps you maintain your home and assists with moisture control. The easiest way to begin this process is to add door sweeps to the bottoms of your exterior doors, including the door leading to the garage.
The next step is detecting cracks, crevices, and other air leaks and determining the best way to seal them. If you are not sure how to detect air leaks, Energy Saver – which is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – is a good resource that provides a list of areas to check in your home.
Once you find cracks or spaces between doors and door jambs, it is time to fill them. Caulking and expanding foam will help in some cases. Self-adhesive V-strip weatherstripping is a good choice for sliding windows, while tension seal and magnetic weatherstripping works better for double-hung windows. The Energy Saver website has a great page on weatherstripping that lists the different types, best places to use them, and the advantages and disadvantages of using each of them when winterizing your home.
Insulate Your Attic, Water Heater, and Electrical Outlets
Your home probably has plenty of insulation in the walls, but you can still help it retain heat better and reduce energy bills by insulating other parts of your home. For example, wrapping your water heater with a water heater insulation blanket reduces heat loss and, therefore, reduces your energy bill.
Another easy way to reduce energy costs is to eliminate air leaks by insulating electrical outlets. To do this yourself, purchase UL-listed gaskets made from fire-retardant foam, turn off the electricity, remove the faceplates, install the gaskets, replace the faceplates, and turn your electricity back on.
It is also recommended that you have at least 12 inches of insulation in your attic. Most ceiling joists are 11 inches wide, so this is a good way to measure how much insulation you currently have. If you can see your joists, you probably do not have enough insulation and could benefit from adding more.
Prepare Your Indoor Fireplaces
If you have not used your fireplace since last winter, it is possible that birds or other critters have built nests or that debris or other obstructions have found their way into your chimney. This is one reason why it is important to inspect your chimney before you start using it again. After your initial inspection, make sure the damper is open, and then burn some newspaper in the fireplace. If the smoke does not rise easily up and out through the chimney, you likely have an obstruction. If this is something you were not able to see or get to on your initial inspection, it is a good idea to bring in a professional to inspect and clean the chimney at this point.
If you are comfortable getting on the roof or climbing a ladder, check the top of your chimney to make sure it has a protective cap to keep debris out of the chimney. If not, purchase and install a cap with a screen to help keep your chimney functioning properly.
If you have a gas fireplace, check all of the connectors to make sure they are functioning properly and not leaking. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, removing the soot is an important part of your annual inspection process. Check your firebox for open mortar joints or any other damage. If you find any damage, this must be repaired to avoid fire escaping the box.
When you are not using your fireplace, close the damper to help keep the warm air in and the cold air out.
Check Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
An important part of winterizing your home is making sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly. This is important in helping to ensure the safety of you, your family, your pets, and your guests.
Due to the increased use of furnaces and fireplaces, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires increases during colder months. Test their function, replace the batteries (if needed), and, if your detectors are more than 10 years old, replace them.
Reverse Ceiling Fans
Many Southern Californians are not even aware that they can reverse the rotation of their ceiling fans. In the summer, counter-clockwise rotation helps warm air rise even more than it would on its own. In the winter, switching the rotation to clockwise helps push warm air back down into the room.
This is not going to make a big difference for most folks in San Diego County and the surrounding areas, but it does help a bit.
Winterizing Your Outdoor Living Spaces
Inspect Your Roof
If you clean your gutters yourself, you can also inspect your roof while you are up there. Inspect flashing around pipes, vents, and your chimney, and check the roof for missing or damaged shingles or tiles. Any issues here can lead to water leaks, so this is an important part of preparing your home for any coming rain we might be fortunate enough to get.
Mulch, Prune, and Trim
Trees and shrubs that are overgrown or hanging over structures may cause damage if there is heavy wind or heavy rain. Trim trees and shrubs back before they go dormant for both safety and to avoid damage to your home or other structures. If your trees or tall or require heavy pruning, it is best to hire a professional tree trimmer for both your safety and the health of the trees.
While preparing the rest of your home and yard for winter, it is also a good time to spread mulch around plants and trees. Rain brings weeds, and mulch will help limit their growth. Mulch also helps regulate soil temperature, promotes moisture retention, and can help protect the roots. Leave space between the mulch and tree trunks or plant stems. This will help avoid rot.
Inspect and Adjust Irrigation Systems
Once the hot, dry days of summer are behind us, you should be able to reduce landscape irrigation. If you have an automatic irrigation system, you can do this by adjusting the schedule. You can also turn the system off completely in areas where plants or grasses will be going dormant for the winter. If you turn your system off, it will remember the programming when you turn it back on. If you unplug it, you will need to reprogram it when you want to get the irrigation going again.
Most folks leave their irrigation systems on and simply adjust the schedule to accommodate for cooler weather. It is also a good idea to install a rain and freeze sensor that will automatically override the irrigation system’s program when it rains or freezes.
If you live in an area that experiences freezes, winterize aboveground pipes, valves, and faucets by insulating them. You can purchase insulating tubes designed for easy installation at home improvement stores and hardware stores.
Winterize Your Swimming Pool and Spa
Most Southern Californians are going to keep their swimming pools open and functioning throughout the year. We live in an area where most of us can use our pools at least a little during any season, including winter. As for spas, they often get more use in winter, so they are kept ready for use throughout the year.
However, if you do decide to close your pool or hot tub for the winter, you should winterize it. The first step is to remove accessories and equipment, including skimmer baskets and ladders. Drain the water from pumps, filters, and heaters. Then, skim, vacuum, and brush the pool to ensure it is clean and free of debris. The next step is checking the pH level and balancing the chemistry. Make adjustments as needed, and follow this with shocking the pool to remove bacteria and impurities. Check your pool cover for holes or gaps, and then close the cover and make sure it fits properly.
When you reopen your pool or spa, you will want to check the pH, sanitize the water, and balance the chemistry before use.
If you have a pool service that regularly maintains your pool and spa, they can do all of this for you.
Clean Rain Gutters
If you are comfortable climbing a ladder, you can likely clean your gutters yourself. If not, do not take the chance of getting injured, and hire a professional to clean your gutters. If you clean the gutters yourself, remove leaves and other debris, and then flush the gutters and downspouts with a garden hose.
Cleaning your gutters is an important part of maintaining your home. Clogged gutters or drains can cause rot or structural damage. To make cleaning your gutters easier in the future, consider installing gutter guards or screens that help keep leaves and debris out of your gutters.
Winterize Your Lawn
Natural grass lawns require year-round care and maintenance to keep them healthy. If you have a warm-weather grass that goes dormant in winter, such as Bermudagrass, you may want to consider overseeding it with an annual grass, such as ryegrass, that will grow and be green during the winter, and then die back around the time your Bermudagrass is coming out of dormancy and turning green in spring.
In general, winter lawn care includes applying fertilizer in fall to encourage root growth during winter. Some homeowners also choose to apply an herbicide to help prevent weeds if we get rain. You will continue to mow and edge your lawn through winter, just probably not as often. You will also continue irrigating it but can reduce the frequency.
Inspect and Prepare Fire Features
Most folks in Southern California use their fire features at least some throughout the whole year. You have likely been using them all summer and into the fall – particularly when entertaining after dark – but you will likely start using them even more once the cooler weather arrives.
The first step is to inspect your fire features for damage and to make sure they are functioning properly. The next step is to clean your fire feature by removing any ash, debris, or soot. Make sure you have the proper fuel on hand and that you have an easily accessible way to put out a fire if the fire escapes your patio fireplace or fire pit. Make sure your spark screen is in good shape. If you do not have a spark screen, order one before you start using your fire feature this winter.
Read our Fire Pit Safety + Maintenance Guide for a full checklist of how to maintain and use your fire features safely.
If you do not yet have a fire feature, consider installing one before the winter entertaining season begins.
Complete Exterior Maintenance Tasks
Walk around your home and property to look for issues that need attention before winter arrives. This might include tasks like cleaning the fan blades and coils on your air conditioning system’s outdoor condensing unit so that you can cover it with a waterproof cover to protect it while not in use.
This is also a good time to check your home’s exterior for peeling or flaking paint, make sure any siding is in good shape, consider adding extenders to gutter spouts to move water farther away from your foundation, clean your windows, and clean the tracks of windows and patio doors. Fix any issues you find and complete any exterior repairs or maintenance before winter, since you can work on interior projects when cold or wet weather is upon us.
Winterizing Your Home: Final Thoughts
It may seem like most Southern California homes do not need to be winterized but, while winterizing your home might look a bit different here, preparing your indoor and outdoor spaces for colder or wet weather is a good idea. This allows you to make sure you are ready for winter entertaining, can help you save money, and makes both your indoor living spaces and outdoor living areas more comfortable for use throughout winter.