While the D.C. area’s average monthly snowfall is relatively modest, severe snowstorms occur every few years, and it makes sense to prepare for occasional inclement weather as well as the season’s unavoidable cold.

From insulating pipes to assuring that furnaces are running at their best, here’s a one-stop guide to winterizing historic homes.


Prep Doors and Windows to Withstand the Elements

It’s important to equip every home with winter-ready doors and windows, but doing so is particularly significant for historic homes. For obvious reasons, these houses have older components (doors, windows, and otherwise). And leaky doors and windows can allow winter air to enter, making for unnecessarily high heating bills.

Consequently, energy experts highly recommend caulking around windows’ openings and/or using foam window sealants (which are inexpensive and decidedly easy to install) to stop winter air in its tracks and keep historic homes comfortable. 

Similarly, warm air has been known to escape through spaces beneath and next to doors during winter, and preventing the undesirable occurrence begins with investing in a high-quality storm door. Plus, inside doors can be caulked and/or equipped with door sweeps, and a number of YouTube videos can guide one through the processes in minutes.

 And it bears reiterating that in certain instances, the best way to winterize historic homes’ windows is by replacing them outright.


Preserve Pipes With Insulation, Antifreeze, and Expert Input

 Beginning with historic homes’ exterior, owners and residents should verify that their garden hoses and sprinkler systems are free of excess water, which would otherwise freeze and cause damage.

 In certain (rather severe) instances, water will accumulate and freeze through hoses and sprinklers and into external water systems themselves, bringing about different headaches. Verifying that water sources are turned off and then storing hoses and sprinklers in the garage or shed can pay off in more ways than one.

 Shifting to piping itself, insulating exposed pipes is a must when winterizing historic homes. As those who have grappled with frozen, blocked, or even cracked pipes can attest, the process is frustrating, costly, and, adding insult to injury, wholly preventable.

For DIY enthusiasts, free video guides provide step-by-step instructions for insulating pipes. Alternatively, enlisting a plumbing expert to identify and insulate any exposed piping is also a viable option for the owners of historic homes. As with the aforementioned winterized doors and windows, doing so should pay off in multiple ways.

 Lastly, using antifreeze to prevent freezing in historic homes’ exposed pipes is highly recommended. Though individuals who didn’t insulate piping before winter often believe that it’s too late to avoid freezing and damage, plumbing professionals can quickly administer specialized antifreeze solutions designed specifically for the piping in houses.

These solutions will stop freezing in its tracks and provide breathing room while full-scale pipe-insulation jobs are completed.


Assure That Furnaces Are Operating At Their Best

Regardless of a historic home’s thermostat settings, furnaces run rather frequently during winter to reach and maintain the desired temperatures. As a result, it’s important to verify that heating systems are operating at their best and most efficient.

 This process begins with the above-mentioned steps, as allowing cold air to enter through windows and doors will cause furnaces to work harder (and drive up energy bills) to keep their respective target temperatures. Additionally, insulating attics (or hiring a professional to do so) is highly recommended, as the spaces frequently let cold air flow into historic homes.

Next, consulting an HVAC professional to inspect a furnace is highly recommended. During routine maintenance appointments, these experts can assure that everything is in order – and that potentially deadly carbon monoxide leaks, which are comparatively common in older units, aren’t occurring.

Furnace maintenance pros can also replace filters on systems, thereby improving the quality of heated air. Hiring HVAC specialists to clean vents and ducts is recommended for similar reasons, as dust likewise builds up and makes its way into the air that’s pushed out into historic homes.


Set Roofs Up to Bear the Cold and Snow Without Issue

Roofs (and especially historic homes’ roofs) are susceptible to leaking and damage during winter. But a little bit of proactivity and maintenance will help homeowners to avoid less-than-ideal outcomes.

 The easiest and most straightforward way to set historic homes’ roofs up for winter success is by hiring a professional to perform a routine check. For those who are inclined to perform these same checks on their own, however, safety must come first when accessing the roof.

Confirming that all a roof’s shingles are in place – and that a roof is free of debris like branches, which can cause snow and ice to accumulate – is recommended in any event. Similarly, cleaning gutters is advisable because water can pool and then freeze if they’re clogged with leaves, potentially damaging the actual roof in the process.

Finally, it’s a good idea to trim any tree branches that are hanging over roofs. As many homeowners will attest to, the added weight of snow can snap branches, cause unnecessary damage, and threaten the safety of occupants.


Inspect Fireplaces and Chimneys

Last but certainly not least, inspecting fireplaces and chimneys is an essential ingredient in the recipe for winterizing historic homes, which are almost always equipped to burn wood for heat.

Animals commonly build nests in fireplaces ahead of winter, and professionals can quickly identify and remedy this and related issues. More pressingly, soot and residue naturally build up in wood-burning fireplaces’ chimneys and, if left in place, can cause house fires to break out.

 As a result, having chimneys cleaned before or during winter is imperative for the owners of historic homes. As Benjamin Franklin’s classic adage (uttered when discussing the threat of housefires, no less) goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.