The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.


FAIRBANKS — The snow is here already, and winter isn’t far behind. Here are a few last-minute things you can do to prepare your house for winter.

Don’t forget your annual boiler tune-up and chimney inspections to make sure your heating appliances are operating safely and efficiently.

Inspect any heat tape to make sure it’s in good working order. Electric heat tape (or pipe heating cable) is used to protect exposed water lines from freezing over the winter. If the plastic covering of the tape is damaged or cracked, it should be replaced. If you find bare wires or charring marks, consult an electrician. A malfunctioning heat trace can be a fire hazard, and replacing heat tape now is a lot easier than a frozen waste or supply line later.

If you have an HRV system, make sure all parts of the system are in good working order. We tend to spend a lot more time indoors during the winter, so good ventilation is critical. An inspection should include a look at the supply and exhaust grilles on the outside of the house — where the intake can become clogged with leaves, grass or other debris, especially if they are close to the ground (also check dryer vents, range vents and bathroom fans). If an exhaust damper is present, make sure it is operating smoothly.

Open up the HRV and examine both the filters and the core. If they are dirty, the cores can be removed and washed. The condensate drain and drain line under the HRV should be free of obstructions; if a trap is present, make sure it contains water.

For those without triple-pane windows, you might want to consider moveable window insulation to help save energy for the winter: either plastic film, exterior shutters or storm windows (more on your options here:

If you’re planning any air sealing with spray foam, the cut-off temperature for most expanding foams is above freezing. Be sure to check the temperature range before applying.

Last but certainly not least, make sure your home has operating smoke alarms and at least one operating carbon monoxide detector.

Other things to consider:

• If you’re going out of town, consider emptying your hot water tank and lines so they don’t freeze in the event of a power outage.

• Have backup water on hand in case the power goes out, even if it’s just a couple of one-gallon jugs under the sink.

• If you notice a draft around doors in the next few days, pick up some weather stripping from a local hardware store.

• If you haven’t ordered fuel for the year, this might be the time!

Ask a Builder articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, contact us at or 457-3454.