Last week it was a big week for birthdays for friends and family back home in Australia so plenty of Facetime and phone calls. I was asked a couple of times if we had plans for the weekend and I found myself replying with my usual September to April response that we had the 12-year-old’s ice hockey game.
You see last week we transitioned into two seasons in one week. Summer to Autumn and the 5th season here in Canada, “Hockey Season”. Summer is short in Canada, far too short, however, the 5th season, Ice Hockey is the longest and seems to go on and on forever.
I noticed I was adding something else in my reply. The words “we are getting ready for winter.” It suddenly occurred they probably had no idea what I meant by “getting ready for winter.” Did I mean mentally getting ready? Well yes, you certainly need to do that living in Canada. As I mentioned, winter in Canada is long. It’s exciting and fun in December, January and February but not so fun when it drags into June. Was I mentally preparing for the 5th Season? Most definitely yes, especially when you live with the Rainman of Ice Hockey. It is relentless. That wasn’t what I was talking about though. I was actually referring to the things we need to do around the house to get ready for winter in Canada. Much like a boy scout this year, we will be prepared because you see last year we were not and to put it bluntly it was a total shit show.
Our house is old, like really old. I love that it is old but sometimes a little niggle of hate creeps out and pushes the old house charm aside. It happened last winter for a millisecond.
We have been told that our Victorian house was built sometime most likely in the 1870’s. It is the oldest house in our street and was originally a farmhouse. Sometime in the 1920s, a concrete basement was dug out, concrete poured and the house possibly moved on top of the basement to where it sits now.
When we purchased the house it was October and we lived in Toronto. We came up a few times on weekends but didn’t actually move into the house until Christmas. When we took ownership of the house the heat was on and firewood was stacked outside. All I needed to do was put up the Christmas tree and cook a turkey. What I didn’t realise at the time was the previous owner had prepared the house for winter for us. Last year was the first full year that we lived in the house and our first year that we transitioned through the various seasons.
Summer, moved into Autumn, Autumn into Winter. I called and got a load of wood delivered and thought I was ready for winter. I was not. You see nobody told us you need to actually prepare an old house for winter in Canada in the fall. You would think that being married to a Canadian he would be all over it. He was not.
This year we have experienced an Indian Summer. The days have been beautiful, the garden is still blooming in the first week of October and yet I know that things will escalate quickly once mother nature turns. I saw on the news this morning parts of Alberta have had 100cm of snow in the last 24 hours. When it turns, it turns quickly. If you snooze you lose so these are my top tips for getting your house ready for winter in Canada during October.
- Now is the time to get firewood delivered and stacked. It is not much fun moving and stacking wood in minus temperatures and navigating an icy driveway. Well, it didn’t look like fun as I watched The Canadian and 12 year old doing it last winter from my warm and cosy window seat.
- Turn off the water for all the outside taps and outlets. At our house, the outside tap has a separate valve within the basement. Once you have turned off the valve, drain the pipe so water isn’t sitting in the external pipe or tap. If you don’t the pipes will freeze, expand and burst. How do I know this? Because ours did and we needed to replace it in the spring.
- Make sure all of your garden hoses, water sprinklers and hose attachments are clear of water from the last time you used them. Don’t leave them outside on the patio or lawn. Store them in a garden shed or basement. If you don’t the water left in them will freeze, expand and damage them. This was also a lesson learnt last year. We needed to replace all of our hose nozzles.
- Cut back your garden in October. It not only means less work in the spring but within a week of the first frost in October it will all probably be dead. This tip is for your mental health in March. It looks less depressing when you look out the window.
- Any outdoor pots that still have life left in them move indoors. Herbs, annuals, tropical plants. This year I had Mandevilla in my window box planters and they did really well. Over the weekend I dug them out of the window boxes and transplanted them into pots and brought them inside to my sunroom. The best-case scenario is they will survive winter inside and I can transplant them back into the window boxes next year. Worst case I will get a few more weeks out of them flowering inside. Check all your indoor plants and see if anything needs re-potting, fertiliser, soil top-up or cutting back. Come winter you won’t be motivated to go outside to do it and you also don’t want the mess of doing it inside.
- Now is the time to move anything in the garden that needs a re-arrange and to plant trees. You need to get in and do it well before the first frosts but without the heat of summer, Autumn is a great time to do it. It is also time to plant bulbs. If you have evergreens in pots then give them a good soaking, fertilise, mulch and move the pots into a protected area. If you don’t they will die. Last year I had evergreens and boxwoods in pots that survived winter only to die on me in spring. I’m still not sure what went wrong. I was hesitant to replace them this summer so only have a few evergreens and boxwoods in pots going into this winter. I have read that wrapping them in burlap and the containers in bubble wrap or an old blanket might help.
- Basements are dug into the ground and often will have windows that are also dug into the ground with a window well. You need to cover the window wells. Why? A window well keeps out snow, excessive rainwater, dirt, pesky squirrels, raccoons and chipmunks. It helps protect things from moving around and shifting. They are mostly clear to let in light. Last winter both of ours got cracked and damaged so in heavy rain or snow we ended up with water in our basement. Trust me, you don’t want water in the basement. If you have downpipes that run down the outside of your house and don’t have anywhere to drain then you will need to make sure they have a downspout extension attached. You need to get that water heading away from the house and away from the basement. Another lesson we learnt the hard way.
- On the subject of furry little critters walk around the outside of the house and eyeball every nook and cranny for ways they can sneak inside. They are sneaky and stealth-like. They are also assholes and you don’t want them setting up house with you over the winter.
- Pack up your outdoor area. Last year we left our outdoor furniture out and not covered. When spring finally turned up I had major regrets. Our outdoor table and chairs are a teak set we shipped with us when we moved from Australia. I should have covered it and didn’t. Trust me when I say Teak furniture does not like being left out in the elements of a Canadian winter. Next spring I will attempt to bring it back to life with sanding and furniture oil but I don’t hold much hope.
- Weatherstripping is your friend. Seal up every single gap in every door and window so not a smidge of outside air can come into the house. Make sure you have storm windows. What is a storm window I hear you ask? It’s an additional window that goes over your regular window to add extra protection from the wind and cold. Our house has 150-year-old windows on the original part of the house. If we didn’t have storm windows I would hate to think how cold the house would be. They also help keep the house more energy efficient. The front door to our house is original and surrounded by glass that doesn’t have storm windows or double glazing. We have a storm door however last winter we lost a lot of heat through the glass on either side of the front door. This year we will be using a window insulation kit (basically clear plastic) to seal the door glass. Will it look pretty? Nope. Do I care? Nope. It will do for now and down the track, we will restore the front door and give it a more permanent fix.
- We have a gas furnace in our basement. It heats up our home and pushes warm air through ducting behind the walls and floor of the house. The warm air then comes out through ducts in our floor. Our furnace hasn’t been used to heat the house for a couple of months so we need to replace the furnace filter and clean the ducts so we have nice fresh air moving through the house. In the past week, I have been hearing a strange noise moving around in one of the ducts. The Canadian hasn’t been taking me seriously but I think something has made a little home in our ducting over the summer. If this is the case I will need to move out.
- Pull out the snow shovel, sidewalk salt and windshield scraper and have them ready to go. It’s Canada and you will get four seasons in one day in October. Last year when the first ice storm hit we didn’t have any salt left from the previous winter. All of our local stores had also been unprepared and sold out within hours.
- Probably the most important thing to do in preparation for winter is to make sure the house is sealed tight. Like really tight. Because I am an old lady in training I need to get up and pee multiple times during the night. During one of my bathroom visits on a particularly cold and windy minus double-digit night I turned on the faucet to wash my hands and water didn’t flow from the tap. The pipes had frozen. When this happens the first thing you shouldn’t do is panic. After a quick google, I panicked. I read that our pipes would burst and our drywall would get damaged. It would be a disaster. I woke up the Canadian in a panic. Despite him wearing a sleep eye mask I could sense the eye roll from him through the mask. In an effort to avoid the pipes bursting he turned the water off at the main in our basement. We then attempted to slowly warm up the pipes so the water stuck in the pipe would unfreeze and drip out through the tap so the pipe wouldn’t swell and burst. We put a portable oil filled heater in the bathroom on high and after narrowing down the section of pipe frozen we used a hairdryer to slowly thaw the pipe. It worked. It was a pain in the ass and felt like we lived in the amazon it was so hot, but it did the job. In an effort to avoid the same thing happening this winter we have purchased foam pipe wrap to go around the pipes. Who knew such a product existed? It’s like a snuggly warm blanket for your pipes. Well apparently everyone except us and the plumber that installed the plumbing in our bathroom upstairs on an external wall. An external wall that probably needs some insulation. As I said, I do love old houses but …
Apart from making sure the liquor cabinet and wine racks are well stocked, what have I missed in getting a house ready for a Canadian winter?