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If you find yourself prowling the house, feeling the need to do something useful, we have a holiday wish list for your home.

When the first major snowfall of the year hits take advantage of the event to learn things about your house that only snow can show. Is the snow melting from your roof rapidly?

That means heat is escaping from your home through the roof and you should consider adding some attic insulation. Rapid formation of icicles without a thaw is another indication that you're losing heat through the roof.

If you find that you are losing a lot of heat through your roof, take a look at the insulation on your attic floor. It should be uniformly thick and distributed evenly with no gaps. The vapor barrier side should be facing downward — toward the living space you are trying to keep warm. Also, the insulation should be dry.

There are many chores that need doing after a big snow; consider the tasks as your excuse to get outside and enjoy winter.

  1. Clear walkways with a snow shovel and sprinkle sand or salt on them for traction. (Be careful with the salt, though — it can leach into flowerbeds and is hard on pets' feet.)
  2. Check your roof for ice dams and break them up to release water if necessary. Frozen dams along the eaves cause melted snow to puddle above and possibly leak through the roof.
  3. Knock snow from tree branches to keep them from breaking under the weight.
  4. Consider sweeping snow from roofs that have shallow angles or little support (sheds, carports, lean-tos) if it can be done safely.

As a temporary measure to get through a cold winter with pipes intact, block north-facing crawl-space vents with a piece of plywood.

If an unusual cold snap is predicted and you live in an older, not-so-well-insulated house, leave the sink and bathtub faucets on at a slow trickle to keep pipes from freezing. This is especially important if the heat is turned off in the house for any period; for example, during the day when the house is empty.

If you have oil heat, you can save fuel and repair costs by cleaning some parts of the oil burner yourself. Turn off power to the system, lift the blower cover and then dust the blades of the blower. Lubricate the motor by pouring oil in the oil cups. If you're ambitious, you can even clean the oil strainer and replace the filter. Check the owner's manual to get details on do-it-yourself maintenance for your oil burner.

If you have forced-air heating ducts, check ducts once a year for leaks and seal with (yes) duct tape. Routinely vacuum dust from duct grilles, and have the entire system professionally cleaned annually, or as recommended by your heating system's maintenance manual.

If mice or rats have invaded your home despite efforts to keep them out, don't be softhearted. They can do damage that ranges from leaving a mess of droppings to chewing your home's wires, which can burn your house down. First, discern whether you have rats or mice: Rats make a lot of noise and leave half-inch droppings. Next, buy a dozen appropriately sized traps, bait half of them (peanut butter works well and is cheap) and place them without setting them. After the rodents have taken the first bait, rebait and set all the traps in one fell swoop. Wear gloves to dispose of the rodents, trap and all.




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