Snowbirds need to know their Alaska nest is safe while they’re away. Ski addicts and fat bikers need hot showers. And all of us homeowners need comfort, peace of mind, and lower utility bills!
In this essential guide, your friends at KLEBS outline the basic steps Anchorage and Mat-Su homeowners should take each year as well as helpful longer term ways to make your home more energy efficient.
1. Start with Exterior Winter Prep:
You’ll want to tackle these projects early, before Alaskan freezing temps hit. So when you see the “termination dust” on the Chugach Mountains, it’s time to get busy!
- Disconnect, drain and put away outdoor hoses to prevent freezing and potential damage. Winterize/cover outdoor faucets.
- Have sprinkler systems blown out.
- Clear gutters and downspouts to ensure proper drainage and prevent ice dams.
- Caulk any leaks in your gutter to help prevent icicles and slipping hazards.
- Cover air conditioning units to shield them from the harsh winter elements.
- Set up your vehicle plug-in system. For cars parked outside, an engine block heater is a must. The Municipality of Anchorage recommends you “Plug at 20.” Even if you have an auto starter on your vehicle, a warm engine block reduces time to warm up your car which saves gas, is easier on your vehicle and is much better for the environment. Put an auto timer on exterior outlet and set it to start heating 2-3 hours before you need to drive.
- Remember to set-up your snow plowing service for the season if you have one! If you have a big driveway, be sure you have a plan of where they’ll put the snow. (The Municipality of Anchorage can fine homeowners even if it’s their plow service that puts it where it shouldn’t.)
- Mark your driveway with tall stakes so you and/or your snow plowing service knows where not to plow.
2. Optimize Your Mechanical Systems
A well-maintained heating system ensures optimal performance during winter, helps your system last longer, and gives you peace of mind that your system won’t break down mid-winter.
- For furnaces, change the filter at least as often as recommended by your system’s manufacturer.
- For any heating system, schedule a maintenance check. Furnaces, boiler, air systems and garage heaters all work better when regularly maintained.
- Upgrade to a programmable or smart thermostat to regulate the temperature efficiently and save on energy costs. KLEBS offers several models that you can even control on your phone.
- Reverse your ceiling fans so the blades rotate counter-clockwise and direct the rising warm air back down to where you are. This alone could lower heating costs by as much as 10%!
- Clean out dryer vents. When your clothes dry efficiently, you save!
- Sign up for our KLEBS Care Program and enjoy priority service, discounted rates, no emergency service fees and free annual system maintenance. Learn more.
3. Prepare Your Plumbing:
Frozen pipes and hoses can cause extensive damage, so it’s essential to take precautions. When that “termination dust” hits the top of the Chugach Mountains, you’d better get busy!
- Make sure any exposed pipes are covered with foam sleeves or heat tape to prevent freezing, especially pipes near an exterior wall and in unheated areas, such as the garage or crawl spaces.
- Install a freeze alarm and/or water detection systems, especially if you travel during the winter. If interior temperatures drop when they shouldn’t, these systems will alert you so you can have someone check the home right away. Ask KLEBS about easy-to-install systems that can work for you.
4. Find & Seal Air Leaks:
Air leaks can significantly impact your home’s energy efficiency. Small leaks can add up to the equivalent of trying to heat your home with the front door open!
To save energy and money, start by looking (and feeling) for leaks around windows, doors and exterior wall outlets. Use your hand to find big leaks; to get meticulous, use a smoke stick, or other draft detectors to help locate smaller leaks. (Available at most Southcentral Alaska hardware stores.)
Once you’ve located probable air leaks, consider these remedies:
- Window Frames: Install weather stripping and caulk around leaky window frames.
- Window Screens: Remove the screens and replace them with your storm windows, if applicable.
- Window Panes: Even the highest R-rated, quality windows lose more heat than a solid wall. Installing temporary window film over especially single-paned windows will help reduce heat loss. (Find “window insulation kits” in various sizes at your local Alaska hardware store.)
- Exterior Doors: Caulk around leaky door frames, install weather stripping and/or door sweeps or rubber bottom seals that eliminate leaks when door is closed.
- Outlets & Switch Plates: Use foam gaskets behind the faceplates to prevent air leakage. Although exterior outlets and switches are most important, interior ones can help if there is cold air infiltrating the walls elsewhere.
- Utility Openings: Seal leaky foundations, walls, and utility openings with caulk or foam sealants. If you’re working on an unfinished home, be sure to seal gaps around pipes, wires and cables through the framing using caulk or foam.
- Fireplaces: If you don’t use your fireplace, be sure damper is closed and block it off with a chimney “balloon” that inflates to seal the flue and/or an insulated cover.
- Attic Doors: These are notorious heat holes for Alaskan homeowners. Be sure to add weather stripping around frames and insulation on the back of the door or hatch.
- Ceiling lights: Recessed “can” lights are notorious for heat loss. If you have access above the ceiling, make sure they have an IC-rated cover (that can contact insulation) and properly sealed. If you can only access these from the living space, consider solutions like airtight trim barriers. Either way, replacing bulbs with LEDs will increase efficiency.
- Air Ducts: If you have a forced air furnace, air ducts carry the heat throughout your home…and have many joints that could leak if they weren’t installed and sealed properly…or if an earthquake has shaken them loose. If you have access to any portion of these ducts, help seal joints with metal-backed tape.
- Garage Heater: Check to be sure it’s working as it should. If you don’t have a thermostat, consider installing one to heat the space more efficiently. If you need a new heater or service on your current one, give us a call at KLEBS!
- Garage Doors: With the door(s) closed, check to be sure there’s a snug fit all the way around. If there are gaps on bottom, replace the bottom seal. For gaps on sides, you may need to adjust the door mechanism. Also consider insulating the door panels and/or covering windows with window insulation kits for extra efficiency.
5. Insulate Yourself from the Elements:
In cold climates like Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, proper insulation is crucial for retaining heat and minimizing energy loss.
Whole Home: Insulate your attic, walls, floors, and crawl spaces to ensure maximum energy efficiency and comfort throughout winter. There are several different types of insulation materials available, including fiberglass, cellulose, and spray foam. Some you can blow in without disturbing sheetrock, others such as spray foam, may require sheet rock removal (or in new construction prior final drywall installation). Good insulation has the added benefit of sound dampening.
Water Heaters: Insulate your water heater with a water heater blanket to best keep in the heat. (Make sure it’s properly installed so that the tank is still secure to the wall, which you’ll especially appreciate when the next earthquake shakes things up!)
Window Coverings: Heavy, thermal curtains or blinds on your windows will help keep the heat in.
Garage Doors: If your garage door panels are not insulated, consider adding some with a DIY insulation kit sold in hardware stores throughout Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla.
6. Maximize Indoor Air Quality
You’ll be spending a lot more time inside come winter and, especially if you’ve sealed up air leaks well, you’ll want to make sure the air you’re breathing is healthy!
- Have your air ducts cleaned to remove blockages and any built up allergens trapped in there that may affect your health.
- Consider adding an indoor air quality system that keeps air clean, at a comfortable humidity level, and well circulated. Your friends here at KLEBS are happy to help you explore your options and give you a quote. Learn more on our air quality page.
7. Prepare for Emergencies:
Being prepared for an emergencies – power outages, pipe leaks, broken heaters and earthquakes – is crucial during the winter season. Here are a few reminders:
- Freshen up your emergency kit with essential supplies like flashlights, batteries, blankets, and non-perishable food items.
- Consider a back-up heat, light and power source. If you don’t have a wood-burning stove, consider getting (and wiring for) a backup generator in case of power outages.
- Fill a few gallon jugs with fresh water (or buy a supply) to have on hand in case you suddenly lose access to water.
Count on KLEBS
We’ve been keeping Alaskans safe and warm since 1986. We invite you to join us a preferred KLEBS Cares member – or simply call us any time for high quality service, repair and installation of all your plumbing, heating and air quality needs.
Anchorage & Eagle River: (907) 365-2500
Palmer, Wasilla and the Mat-Su Valley: (907) 357-HEAT (4328).