Organize Your Senior’s Home For Winter
George & Martha built their split-entry style home in the suburbs in 1964. They raised 4 children in their home. Their oldest daughter, Julie, was in her teens when they moved in. Julie is in her 60s now and has her own home a few streets away.
George & Martha are in their 80s and want to stay in their home, but can no longer manage the upkeep and seasonal maintenance. With the impending change of seasons, Julie wants to help her parents get organized for the winter.
Here are some things Julie (and you) can do to help elderly loved ones stay safe in their home during the colder months.
- Schedule a furnace check: HVAC System Maintenance is important, especially for at-risk populations like seniors. The last thing we want to happen is for the furnace to go out in the middle of the night when it’s below freezing outside!
- Make sure all seasonal clothes and coats are accessible: If your loved one changes out their clothes with the seasons, you’ll want to be sure that all of their fall and winter items are unpacked and accessible. Make sure their coats, hats, gloves, etc. are easy to find and in good condition.
- Stock the Pantry: An extra reserve of canned goods and other non-perishable or frozen foods is good to have on hand when inclement weather is in the forecast. This is also a good time to check existing items in the pantry and fridge for freshness If food is running low during an episode of bad weather, we don’t want our loved ones to get sick from eating expired food stores.
- Stock the Medicine Cabinet: This time of year marks the beginning of Cold & Flu season. Make sure your loved ones have current basic medications in their cabinet in case they need them, but of course be sure to check all over-the-counter medications with their doctor/pharmacist to be certain they are safe to take. If you help your loved one manage their medication, you may want to be aware of the weather forecast and portion out their medication in advance in case you are not able to travel to see them.
- Check their emergency kit: Now is a good time to make sure they have plenty of blankets, flashlights, bottled water, batteries and other emergency items that are in good and working order in case of a power outage.
- Arrange for leaf & snow removal: Falling leaves and icy sidewalks both create major slipping hazards for seniors. This can be a difficult conversation to have, especially with seniors like George & Martha who are striving to maintain their independence, but paying for leaf & snow removal will ensure that driveways and sidewalks are cleared. If your loved one can’t afford to pay for the service, you might investigate volunteer services in your area. Check with your local resource on aging (State Departments of Aging, Area Agencies on Aging, etc.) for more information.
- Purchase sand or salt to have on hand: As snow melts and refreezes, it’s always a good idea to have these items at home to treat icy spots. Try Safe Paw Non-Toxic Ice Melter
- Prepare the car: If your loved one is still driving, make sure to have their car checked for winter and stock it with all the winter necessities (ice scraper, blankets, etc.).
- Winterize the home: Gathering the family for a weekend or hiring a handyman to put in storm windows, clean the gutters, and check for roof leaks will help make sure your loved ones are safe and warm all season.
Consider the following checklist from Bob Vila (before the first frost) when preparing the home for winter:
Windows and Doors
- Check all the weatherstripping around windows and doorframes for leaks to prevent heat loss. Replace weatherstripping, if necessary.
- Replace all screen doors with storm doors.
- Replace all window screens with storm windows.
- Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay. Repair or replace framing to maintain structural integrity.
- Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.
- Inspect windows for cracks, broken glass, or gaps. Repair or replace, if needed.
Lawn, Garden, and Deck
- Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent iced-over or wind-swept branches from causing property damage or a power problem.
- Aerate the lawn, reseed, and apply a winterizing fertilizer to promote deep-root growth come spring.
- Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. The dirt grade — around the exterior of your home — should slope away from the house. Add extra dirt to low areas, as necessary.
- Clean and dry patio furniture. Cover with a heavy tarp or store inside a shed or garage to protect it from the elements.
- Clean soil from planters. Bring pots made of clay or other fragile materials indoors. Because terracotta pots can swell and crack, lay them on their sides in a wood carton.
- Dig up flower bulbs, brush off soil, and label. Store bulbs in a bag or box with peat moss in a cool, dry place for spring replanting.
- Remove any attached hoses and store them away for the winter to prevent cracks, preserve their shapes, and prolong their life. Wrap outside faucets with covers to prevent water damage.
- Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
- Inspect decks for splintering, decay, or insect damage and treat, if needed, to prevent further deterioration over the winter.
- Clean leaves, dirt, and pine needles between the boards of wooden decks to thwart mold and mildew growth.
- Inspect outdoor lighting around the property. Good illumination will help minimize the chance of accidents on icy walkways at night.
- Check handrails on exterior stairs to make sure they’re well secured.
Tools and Machinery
- Bring all seasonal tools inside and spray them with a coating of lightweight oil to prevent rust.
- Weatherize your lawn mower by cleaning off mud, leaves, grass, and debris.
- Move your snow blower and shovels to the front of the garage or shed for easy access.
- Prepare the snow blower for the first snowfall by changing the oil and replacing the spark plug.
- Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels to make sure they’re ready for another season of work.
- Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand for steps, walkways, and the driveway.
Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning
- Inspect the firebox and flue system to ensure that they’re clean of any soot or creosote and that there aren’t any cracks or voids that could cause a fire hazard.
- Check fireplace for drafts. If it’s cold despite the damper being closed, the damper itself may be warped, worn, or rusted. Consider installing a Chimney Balloon into the flue to air seal the area tightly.
- Clean or replace the air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency and improved indoor air quality.
- Clean your whole house humidifier and replace the evaporator pad.
- Bleed valves on any hot-water radiators to increase heating efficiency by releasing air that may be trapped inside.
- Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
- Remove air conditioners from windows or cover them with insulated liners, to prevent drafts.
- If you have an older thermostat, replace it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs.
- Install foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce outside airflow.
- Make sure fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down to the floor for enhanced energy efficiency and comfort.
- Flush a hot water heater tank to remove sediment, and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it’s in proper working order.
- Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces, and use a sealant to plug up any leaks.
Gutters, Roof, and Drains
- Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles and replace, as necessary before you get stuck with a leak.
- Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate, using roofing cement and a caulking gun.
- Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening, and re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and ice can pull gutters off the house.
- Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet to prevent flooding of the foundation and water damage from snowmelt.
- Clean leaves and debris from courtyard and pool storm drains to prevent blockages.
- Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.
By staying organized in advance of the changing weather, you’ll have peace of mind that your loved ones are safe in their home – even if you can’t get over to help due to road conditions.
Based on an article by Vickie Dellaquila, Western Pennsylvania’s first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization and owner of Organization Rules® Inc. Organization Rules provides compassionate organizing services for every stage of your life®.
She is the author of Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move.
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