Extreme Winter Weather Preparation for Your Home and HVAC
With fall in the rearview mirror, it’s time to think about how to prepare your home and heating system for winter weather. By the time a winter storm warning, watch, or advisory is making headlines on the local news station, the clock is already ticking. So, consider doing some advance prep, using the following tips for getting your home ready for extreme weather, protecting your HVAC system, and determining what type of generator can keep things running in case of a power outage.
General Tips on Preparing Your Home
To ensure you’re warm and safe, it’s essential to think ahead, before winter weather strikes. Weatherproofing your home includes a wide range of basic tasks that can be done yourself: caulking or weather stripping your doors and windows, installing storm windows or interior plastic window coverings, and putting insulation on exterior waterlines to prevent freezing or bursting pipes.
Depending on your situation, it might be worth calling on a pro to do an inspection and add insulation to your walls and attic, which can help retain more heat and keep your energy bills in check. If you plan on using your fireplace or wood stove, make sure to have your chimney inspected annually — and test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
Finally, if extreme winter weather is in the forecast, make sure you have sufficient food, water, and medications on hand — including what you need for your pets — and stock up on batteries for your flashlights and radios in case the power goes out. In addition to your local stations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio is an excellent resource for weather updates.
Preparing Your HVAC System for Winter Weather
Whether you’re expecting a blizzard, blustery winds, or just frigid temperatures, you want to make sure your heating system is ready to go when bad weather arrives. (Note: If it’s the first time you’re using your heat, see our recent blog to find out what odors are normal and when to get expert help: Why Your Heater Smells Like It’s Burning.)
- The first step is to have your local Trane dealer do a thorough heating system inspection, which will give you the peace of mind that your furnace or heat pump is operating properly. Preventive maintenance can save you money over the long haul by catching issues early too.
- When it’s chilly outside and your heating system runs for longer periods, you’ll want to change your filters more frequently — so have replacements handy.
- Check your vents to make sure you don’t have any obstructed airflow. Not only does that prevent warm air from circulating, it can put undue stress on your HVAC system.
- Verify that your thermostat is working correctly — and consider investing in a smart thermostat, which offers the ability to control temperatures when you are not at home, as well as regular programming functions to suit your lifestyle.
While we’re on the topic of HVAC equipment, some additional thoughts on winterizing your air conditioning unit. Outdoor HVAC equipment is built to withstand the elements, but if you live in an area that gets lots of snow and ice, you should consider covering your AC unit. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to use an airtight, watertight cover — it should be a breathable fabric that doesn’t lock in moisture. And if you’re wondering if you need to run your AC in winter to keep it functioning, the answer is no. In fact, it can harm the unit if the outdoor temperature is below 60 or 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
One important exception is if you’re using a heat pump. Although they function as an air conditioner in warm weather, they’re built to run during cold weather…so you’re A-OK! In case of snow, you do want to clear it from the top and sides of your heat pump to keep it working properly.
Planning Ahead for Extreme Winter Weather with a Generator
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. electricity customers lose power for about two hours a year, excluding major events such as winter storms and hurricanes. If you live in an area commonly affected by extreme weather, you know from experience that outages can last days or weeks. In addition to an uncomfortable indoor environment, the result can be a cascade of problems from thawing refrigerators to frozen or broken pipes.
Generators can often be a solution, but the number of choices may make your head spin. Small recreational generators might cost a few hundred dollars, while a whole-house system can run $10,000 or more. Here are some of the considerations:
- How much power do you need? This is a matter of math, adding up the wattages of all the appliances and devices you need to run — taking into account that some equipment uses a surge of wattage on startup, such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps. In general, newer gas furnaces use less than 600 watts. The wattage used by a heat pump is considerably higher, depending on the tonnage as well as other factors.
- Do you have long or frequent outages? In areas that commonly have significant storms, a home standby unit or large inverter with sufficient wattage may make the most sense. It can be connected to your home’s circuit breaker by a licensed electrician, including a transfer switch, and can power all of your hardwired HVAC and appliances.
- Are you looking for a “just-in-case” solution? Depending on wattage, midsized or and recreational inverters can power items with standard plugs, such as the refrigerator, a small space heater, some lights, and your devices. Some of the more powerful portable generators on the market range as high as 7,500 watts, but noise is a downside, as well as the expense if you want to connect it to your circuit breaker.
If you’re unsure what generator type would work best for your home size and specific heating and cooling system, your local Trane dealer or technician can provide a professional recommendation.