It is officially Autumn, and in many parts of the country, there is already a brisk chill in the air. While it is easy to get caught up in the beautiful leaves on the trees and the gastronomical excitement of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, it is not too soon to begin preparing your home for the cold winter months.
If you live in an area that typically gets frigid temperatures and frozen precipitation, there are several crucial maintenance tasks that should be completed annually in order to keep systems running correctly and protect the home from winter damage. For the elderly who are aging in place in their own home, some of these tasks are especially important in order to keep them safe and comfortable during the winter months. Caregivers should take special note.
Check your heating system
Priority one when temperatures drop? Staying warm! This is critical for those seniors who have chronic health conditions that make them more susceptible to cold temperatures. Make sure your home’s heating system is in good working order before the mercury drops. In the Fall, turn on your heating system to be sure it is producing warm air. It also is wise to schedule an appointment with a reputable HVAC technician for an annual system inspection and cleaning to ensure your heat is running efficiently and safely on that first cold day of the season. An unmaintained system often uses more power, thus increasing heating bills.
And for those who live in especially snowy regions, be sure to cover up your exterior air conditioning condenser unit to protect it from snow and ice. A/C manufacturers make custom covers for units, but a piece of sturdy plywood placed on top can also do the trick.
Prepping for snow & ice removal
For many seniors living in colder climates, the headache and hassle of moving snow is the tipping point that motivates them to consider senior living options like a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) where this arduous chore is done for them.
But for seniors who aren’t quite ready to make that leap, you’ll want to be sure you have usable snow shovels, ice scrapers, and enough salt or ice melter. Do an inventory of these snow removal essentials for sidewalks, driveways, and vehicles before bad weather is in the forecast. You can bet that as soon as the weatherperson puts snowflakes on the 5-day forecast, there will be a run on stores for these important items! Also, be certain that your snowblower or plow is functional and has a full tank of gas. If necessary, have equipment tuned up this fall by a small engine mechanic.
Remember: a slip on the ice can be dangerous, even lethal, for seniors who are not as agile as they once were, so use extra caution when walking outside in inclement conditions. It may be well-worth the money to pay a neighbor or a snow-removal service to take care of this necessary (yet laborious) task.
>> Related: The Potentially Devastating Impact of a Fall
Insulate windows & doors
That patio door can be nice for catching a breeze on a Fall afternoon, but when temperatures plunge into the teens, such doors may create a cold draft, especially in older, less insulated homes. There are several products available at the hardware store that can help shut out winter wind including sealable plastic coverings and temporary caulk for windows or unused doors. These types of sealants can be especially beneficial along a sofa or next to a bed. Another option is to install some additional weather stripping along the bottom of doors or windows. Reducing such drafts not only makes your home warmer but can also lower your heating bill, an important consideration for seniors on a fixed income.
Protect your pipes
You won’t need that garden hose for a few months, so disconnect it from the outside faucet and store it to prevent cracks in the rubber. And if your hose bib has an indoor shut-off valve, be sure to turn it off to prevent pipes from freezing or bursting.
Another plumbing-related home maintenance task that is easy to overlook is periodically draining 5-6 gallons of water from the valve at the base of the water heater. This removes sediment from the bottom of the tank and can increase efficiency, another way to save some money on those winter power bills.
Prepare for power outages
Severe winter weather always carries the potential for power outages, so it is critical to be prepared for the worst, planning ahead not only for water and food, but also for a safe source of heat. Propane heaters are an option, but the fuel tanks must be stored outside, thus a kerosene heater may be a preferable option as their tanks can safely be kept indoors.
Again, because of their increased susceptibility to the effects of cold temperatures, elderly people and those with health issues may find a generator to be worth the investment. A 5000 to 5500-watt portable generator is powerful enough to keep the lights and heat on in most homes. A more expensive option is a standby generator that will automatically turn on if there is a power outage. For safety, be sure to hire a well-qualified electrician to install any generator in your home.
Consider your options
If you are a senior–or the caregiver for a senior–and feel a little overwhelmed by this to-do list, that might be a sign that it is time to consider your options. While many people think they want to age in place at home, when the realities of maintaining a house start to become too difficult, it may be time for a move to a senior living facility. From continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) to 55 and over neighborhoods, almost all senior living options’ fees will include at least exterior property upkeep and maintenance, taking those chores off of your plate. Some things are worth the money.
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