Battening Down the Hatches

You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, wrote the poet, and right now up here it's blowing straight into autumn. From the brightly colored leaves flitting across the yard to the sudden closing of windows left open since July, signs of change have come to the hinterlands. It won't be long before wildflowers feel the dark kiss of frost and snowflakes start to spin dreams of a different sort on mountains falling into sleep. Which, as every Vermonter knows, means it's time to get serious about getting ready for winter. There's wood to stack, a garden to put to bed, and, most important of all, a house to prepare for the deep-freeze ahead. While your own thermometer may not hit -30° (as ours surely will!), there are still certain things you'll want to do in order to assure a healthy, safe, and sustainable cold weather season:

  • First, schedule a furnace cleaning and inspection to make sure yours is burning fuel as efficiently as possible and venting its toxic waste gases outside and not into your home. This step will save definitely save you money, and it could save your life!
  • Change the batteries on your carbon monoxide detector. If you don't have a detector, get one. Your house will be sealed shut for the duration and that lack of fresh air makes any potential carbon monoxide leak even more serious.
  • Inspect your windows for drafts. Energy experts tell us that the cumulative impact of all the air leaks in the typical home is equal to leaving a window open 24/7. That's a huge amount of energy waste, and you can prevent much of it by making sure your windows are sealed tightly to prevent heat loss. Fix any leaks you find with weatherstripping or cover the whole window with plastic weatherization sheeting.
  • Inspect your doors, too. Feel around their edges for drafts on cold nights or look for light leaking in when the sun or a strong flashlight is shines directly on them. If you feel cool air or see light, weatherstripping is needed. Pay special attention to the bottom of the door -- door sweeps are typical problem areas and yours may need replacement.
  • Remove the covers from the electrical outlets on all exterior-facing wall and install insulating gaskets to prevent additional heat loss and energy waste. (These can be left on year-round.)
  • If you cook with gas, make sure your range hood fan is working and its vent is not blocked. Burning gas may seem clean, but it creates unhealthy invisible pollution that will build up in a sealed house.
  • Check your compost. If your bin is edging close to capacity, it could fill entirely over winter when biodegradation slows and often stops altogether. That would leave you with no place to put your kitchen scraps. Avoid a compost crunch by tilling your bin's contents into your garden where the compost process can finish in time for spring planting.
  • Get out the floor mats and boot trays. From de-icing chemicals to street muck, winter is a time when all kinds of pollution gets tracked indoors on shoes and boots. Ask guests to remove their footwear upon arrival to keep whatever they've been walking in isolated in your entranceway.

These strategies will help keep your family warmer and healthier, and your wallet a bit fuller, too. They also give you a very good idea of what I'll be doing this weekend at my own homestead. Feel free to drop by and lend a hand if you're in the neighborhood... photo: m.prinke

written by:

the Inkslinger

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!