Brrr was all I could say when I walked outside the other morning to a light dusting of snow – just days before Halloween! Like it or not, winter weather is right around the corner and there may be a few last-minute things you need to do to get your home ready for the cold weather. Hoses and shallow irrigation lines will be damaged over the winter if water is left inside. Lawn irrigation systems usually have shallow lines but are normally built to be self-draining. If there is a main shut-off valve for the system, close it and then run through the zones to make sure any pressure has a chance to bleed off. Hoses can be drained simply by stretching them out and then coiling them for storage. Water will drain as you pull the hose toward you for coiling. Store them in a protected place as UV light can make them brittle over time. If you have not exchanged your window screens for storm windows or closed the glass on your aluminum storm windows, now is the time! Glass is a very poor insulating material.
While a second pane of glass in the form of a storm window does not by itself add much insulation, the air space between the two windows does. Also, storm windows generally fit very tightly into the window opening reducing or eliminating air from leaking into the house. Most of the energy savings for storm windows are a result of reducing this airflow. Washing the windows now also helps endure you of a clear view of the upcoming “winter wonderland” just outside.
Clean your gutters. A last-minute check to ensure your gutters are free from obstructions can help reduce the likelihood of ice dams forming this winter and damaging your roof. Also, make sure the discharge ends of your downspouts are clear. Leaves can sometimes block these preventing proper drainage.
Put away or cover your lawn furniture, barbeque grill, and empty your birdbath. Snow and cold weather can reduce the lifespan of these items. Strong winter winds can also make many of these lighter weight items into projectiles that can damage your home or autos or simply “disappear” never to be seen again.
Winterize the family car. Check the antifreeze, oil and fluid levels, the heating system, and get snow tires or make sure the all-weather tires have plenty of tread. One of the most important things you can do is to keep your car’s gas tank full. In case of an emergency, a full tank of fuel will allow you to periodically run the car’s engine to provide heat. Adding a Winter Car Kit to your vehicles can literally save your life during a snow storm. Emergency supplies can be stored out of the way in the trunk until they are needed. Items in your Winter Car Kit should include: a battery-powered radio with spare batteries (in case your car radio fails), a flashlight with extra batteries (or one of the shake-up lights that do not require batteries), a first aid kit with a manual, an extra blanket or two, and extra clothing. Booster cables are important for any time of the year but especially in winter to restart a dead battery. A shovel, a box of sand or old house shingles are a must. The sand and/or the shingles will give tires needed traction to get out of a snowbank and back on the road. It might not be a bad idea to store salt for your driveway, too! The melting snow might be easier to shovel and cause less strain on your heart. If you have car trouble on the road, a fluorescent orange cloth tied to the antenna and safety flares will alert other drivers that you need help.
This is also a good time to service power equipment such as mowers, tillers and garden tractors. Run the equipment out of gas or treat the existing gas with a stabilizer as untreated gas can deteriorate over time. If using a stabilizer, run the engine long enough for untreated gas in the carburetor bowl to be burned and replaced. This is also a good time to replace the oil (and filter, if present) since the engine is warm. Check and replace the spark plug if necessary. Check and clean air filters and replace them if necessary. Sharpen blades, clean tines, tighten screws, replace broken parts and do all the other things needed to keep equipment in good shape. Though such maintenance takes some time and effort, it pays for itself by reducing frustration and lost time due to poorly performing equipment during a hectic spring.
So before it really gets cold, take a few minutes to make sure you are ready to greet old man winter when he comes knocking at your door.
Jim Crawford is a field specialist in agricultural engineering for the University of Missouri Extension in Atchison County.