By Julie Kailus, Longmont Magazine

With cold weather on its way, most of us are already wondering how to keep our homes cozy this winter. Focused on furnaces, we often overlook our home’s most exposed elements: patio kitchens, yards and gardens, even windows and doors meant to keep heat inside. Winterizing your outdoor spaces can save inordinate time, money and headaches come spring when you’re ready to start enjoying them all over again.

Outdoor kitchen maintenance

“Nobody wants to open up an outdoor kitchen in spring and immediately clean up a mess,” says Vernetta Angelo of Budget Home Supply, which sells materials for decks and outdoor kitchen appliances. “Of course the kitchen will need a spruce up to go back into operation, but it certainly shouldn’t have dirty stuff remaining from last summer’s parties.”

However with increasingly sophisticated patio appliances, winterizing may require more forethought and investigation of manufacturer recommendations. “Covering things up properly is not as straightforward as it may seem,” Angelo says. “Some appliances suffer damage from water trapped under covers. There are specialized materials that do not hold moisture in, yet still protect appliances from winter snow. Other appliances have a design that withstands winter weather and may not need any cover at all.”

Start by removing all items and trays from refrigerators. “Check with manufacturer’s specifications, but most are safe to put in the dishwasher on a non-heated rinse,” Angelo says. “Otherwise, give them a good cleaning by hand.” Also scour grills, ovens and cook surfaces with appropriate cleaners. Wipe down all surfaces, and spray with disinfectant where appropriate. Avoid abrasive scrubs on stainless steel, which will leave the material permanently scratched.

Assuming your outdoor kitchen won’t be used again, cut off water and gas supplies; turn off electricity on all units; and open water valves and disconnect water supply lines. Drain any remaining water from appliances that use water, including refrigerators with on-door water taps, icemakers, dishwashers and kegerators.

Any water in any pipe or unit above the standard four-foot deep-freeze line may cause damage as it expands when it freezes, so be certain to get rid of all the water above ground. You can use compressed air to blow out water pipes that will have exposure during winter, according to Angelo.

Sinks also need special consideration. During the winterization process, don’t forget the under-sink traps, which hold a small amount of water even when the sink is empty. Angelo recommends one of two processes: Either remove the trap and pour out the water or put a cupful of antifreeze into the sink to prevent any residual water from freezing during winter. Additionally, be sure to cover the sink basin so no debris or snow enters the sink or drain.

Countertops, especially those made from stone, will benefit from a fresh coat of sealer before each winter. Natural stone has tiny natural fissures, and even a little moisture that enters these tiny cracks is enough to cause damage when water freezes.

shutterstock_64877410Yard and garden protection

Living landscapes need extra attention as homeowners weigh how best to put sensitive yards and gardens in hibernation mode so they’ll flourish come spring.

“It’s important to make sure your lawn, trees and shrubs are well hydrated going into winter,” says Michael Morris of The Flower Bin Garden Center & Nursery. “Trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns that have been well watered are more likely to survive the winter and emerge strong in the spring. With a dry winter, it’s important to water every 4 to 5 weeks.”

Now is also a great time to clean up garden beds. Removing plant debris before winter comes will help prevent insects and disease problems from surviving in your garden and re-infesting your plants in the spring. It’s also smart to add a top layer of organic material to perennial garden beds. “The dressing will assimilate into the soil through the course of the winter, improving your soil structure and fertility,” Morris says.  Likewise a lawn winterizer fertilizer applied now gets stored in your lawn’s roots, so when the soil warms up in the spring grass will emerge stronger and green up quicker.

To save tender summer bulbs (dahlias, cannas, glads), Morris advises digging them up now, drying them outside and storing the blubs in a cool spot (45-50 degrees) in vermiculite, coconut coir or peat moss. Young trees that have been in the ground six years or less should be wrapped to protect them from winter sun. A good rule of thumb is to cover trees at Halloween and uncover at Easter.

Keep the heat inside

Once you’ve winterized your outdoor spaces, the last thing you want to do is heat the backyard. Small home inefficiencies can quickly add up in cold months, so start sealing up all those areas that allow heat to escape outside.

Chris Kurz, senior technician and comfort consultant at Welzig Heating and Air, has plenty of tips for doing just that. Start by getting a compass to find out where your home faces north, which has the most potential for heat loss. Check insulation we well as your combustion air pipe, which runs outside from the utility room, allowing proper oxygenation for the furnace. While the outpipe must remain open for safety purposes, Kurz recommends adding a five-gallon bucket under it, which will allow all the cold air to sink into the bucket.

 Adhesive foam sealing strips can help close drafty spots around doors and windows during the winter.

Adhesive foam sealing strips can help close drafty spots around doors and windows during the winter.

Windows and doors, of course, are infamous energy leakers. The best protection, according to Kurz, is simple clear cellophane, which when heat-sealed to windows creates a helpful insulating barrier.

To ensure an airtight seal, cap doors by using foam sealant strips that are the exact width of the frame casing. Also check attic insulation, a notorious spot for heat loss, and don’t forget latent energy loss through those drafty dog doors, especially at windy, north-facing access points. Last but not least, unhook those hoses before your pipes freeze and you have a whole new “winterizing” issue to deal with.

A little planning can help prepare your favorite outdoor spaces for a long winter—and a more fruitful spring.