smart spending

21 ways to winterize your life

Feel that chill in the air? Old Man Winter is coming.

Whether you live in Washington D.C. or Washington state, chilly weather is nature's way of telling you it's time to check up on a few things: your home, your car, your wallet and even yourself. So as you prepare for winter, here are a few tips to help ensure you and your loved ones stay safe, dry, snug and warm.

Your home

1. Drain outside spigots. Make sure outside spigots are off. Then find the inside shutoff valve, which should have a drain plug attached, says Tom Silva, general contractor on "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House." Shut it off and leave the drain plug open. Then go outside and open the faucets and leave them open. That way, any remaining water drains out and won't freeze.

2. Clean all the debris from gutters and down spouts. Be sure to clear out those outside window wells, too, says Silva, to prevent the debris from freezing where it is and blocking water drainage.

3. Check the windows. Make sure your storm windows are "completely protecting your window" and ready to meet the cold, says Silva. And make sure the weep holes, which allow condensation to drain, are clean and open.

4. Caulk. For home use, Silva recommends one of four varieties of caulk: butyl, latex with silicone, acrylic with silicone or tripolymer. "You don't want to use (straight) silicone," he says. Use caulk on openings or outlets around pipes, foundation, windows, etc. "You want to stop any migration of water and air," he says.

5. Check storm doors. Make sure they close properly. And now's the time to add that weather-stripping around doors and thresholds if you need it, Silva says.

6. Insulate water lines. Put foam rubber insulation -- you can buy it sized in a home store -- around hot and cold water pipes, says Silva. You'll increase efficiency and save energy.

7. Get those heating units maintained. Make sure your heating appliances "are cleaned and serviced and ready for winter," says Silva. "Tune-up time."

Your car

8. Check your antifreeze. "The most important thing is antifreeze," says Bob Cerullo, author of "What's Wrong with My Car?" What you do depends on where you live and whether you've added water to the antifreeze during the year. If you live in a place that gets really cold in the winter and you've added a substantial amount of water to the antifreeze since last winter, you probably want to flush it out and start fresh. Otherwise, you probably only have to flush it every three to five years, as the owner's manual dictates, says Cerullo. Other signs of bad antifreeze: it's discolored or "has a strong odor."

You can also test your antifreeze with a hydrometer, which will tell you to what specific temperature it can protect you, says Cerullo.

9. Examine the belts and hoses. "If belts are worn, the engine can overheat," says Cerullo. Similarly, if the rubber hoses that connect the engine to the radiator deteriorate, you can lose coolant and overheat, he says.

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