If you own an old house in the Midwest this morning you will either be on your way to work or spending the day unfreezing pipes. Fortunately, due to good planning I am writing this Blog.
The vast majority of Old homes are bought in warm sunny months and prospective home buyers give little, if any, thoughts to the cost of winter heating. HVAC inspection should be critical and if a system is more than 10 years Old you should count on replacement, not only because of reliability issues but from an expense side as well. New high efficiency furnaces can be the difference between a 150.00 a month heat bill and a 500 a month heat bill. You should always ask to see the actual billing summary for the winter months. Same with water heaters. If an water heater is more than 5 years old the current model will be far more efficient.
So maybe you didn't do that and now you are in shock over that first month winter heat bill. What do you do. Well don't turn the thermostat down to 50 and pile on blankets. You need heat in the house to combat the cold coming in from the outside that can freeze you pipes. If you have a boiler system look at "Balancer" units that can be installed on the radiators. If you have the more common forces air system, look at your duct work. Is in Insulated and sealed? If not there are a couple of things you can do. One is seal the joints. DO NOT USE DUCTAPE. You want to use the foil backed tape specifically designed for ductwork. You can also get a Sealant that can fill small gaps. You should also Insulate your ductwork. Sealing and insulating your metal ductwork can increase the efficiency of your furnace by 15-25 percent. You can find ductwork insulation at you local home improvement store. By the way this will also make your HVAC bill lower in the summer.Vacuum Registers and ducts and change you filter. A dirty air filter makes your furnace work harder.
Water pipes: If you water pipes are not insulated you should definitely insulate them. Also if you have pipes in a crawl space make sure heat can get from the basement to the pipes OR but a pipe wrap that you can plug in. Go around the inside of your basement with a candle and look for air leaks, Especially near pipes. The expanding foam can seal any air leaks. If you have pipes on an outside wall check the siding on the outside of the house. look for gaps in the siding or windows near the pipes and caulk them. It is a good idea to leave the doors open on sinks or vanities at night so warm air can get in the area.
The Victorians loved those big heavy drapes for a reason, they kept the cold air out. Make sure drapes are closed at night and that the windows are locked. If you find a window with an air leak (usually caused by poor glazing on the outside), buy a tube of Clear silicone caulk and seal the gap. You can peel this off when warm weather comes and don't forget to FIX the glazing.
Make sure basement windows are covered, I like to cut Styrofoam panels to fit the window openings and them simply tape them in
If you pipes are frozen, DON'T PANIC! try to determine just where the freezing is, if you think it is in the wall use a Hair dryer (not a heatgun) to raise the temperature of the pipe. Same applies to the basement, Hold the hair dryer near the frozen area. It will take a while to unfreeze it but you can usually do this yourself. If you think it may be a major freeze you can buy the eclectic heat tape and apply it to the frozen area. It will take a while( up to a few hours) for this to un-thaw. It is a good idea to leave a small stream of water running on really cold nights and is much cheaper than calling a plumber!
If you have a break caused by freezing pipes find your shutoff in the basement and shut the water off. In cold weather it may take several hours to get a plumber.
If you are planning renovations always try to keep water lines in interior walls. I try to create utility chases in the walls where I can have duct work and piping close as the ductwork helps keep the area warm.