Preparing your Apartment for Sub-Zero Temperatures

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This weekend saw Chicago's first major snowfall of the year. For those renters who are spending their first winter in one of the city's many vintage apartments, it's their first introduction to some of the more obvious flaws of pre-World War I construction. While it's nice to think that your landlord will take care of everything to make sure your apartment stays warm and dry all winter, there are definitely some things that only you can do inside your apartment to make life a lot more comfortable throughout the next few months.

  • If you have ceiling fans, change the direction to push hot air downwards. They usually have a small switch on the motor housing that allows you to do so.
  • If your kitchen sink or bathroom sink is against an exterior wall of the building, remember to leave the cabinet doors open, especially at night. This allows the warm air from inside to help keep the pipes from freezing.
  • Always keep your thermostat set to at least 50 degrees, even if you go on vacation. Frozen pipes can become burst pipes, which in turn become a flood.
  • Some buildings with older windows will have storm windows in addition to screens. In some cases the storm windows are stored within the window frame in the top half of the window. Push the screen up and pull the storm down. Careful not to pinch your fingers. In older buildings the storm windows are stored in the basement during the warmer months and must be put in from the outside.
  • If you don't have storm windows you may want to use heat-shrink wrap or heavy drapes to keep drafts to a minimum. Draft dodgers for the doors are also a good idea.
  • If your landlord is the one responsible for shoveling, they will usually only do the public facing sidewalks. They're not required by law to shovel the back porches or back sidewalk. It's best to keep a stock of salt and a small shovel for clearing the back way out, as it is a fire escape and for many it's also the route to the laundry room.
  • If you have steam radiators, make sure the valves are either all the way open or all the way closed. If it's in any other position you will just cause more banging and clanging from your radiator. If you don't have a thermostat in your apartment AND all your steam valves are closed and you're still too hot, you can open a window, just try not to do so in rooms with plumbing pipes. Remember that it can take several hours for a steam radiator to stop generating heat after you close the valve.
  • Under no circumstances should you use your oven or stove to heat your apartment. Get a space heater or a hot water bottle or even microwave a sack of rice for a minute or two to serve as a heating pad.
  • If your apartment is regularly below 60 degrees overnight or 68 degrees during the day, notify your landlord. If they don't fix it rapidly, notify 311 - just make sure someone's home when the city inspector comes by to verify.
  • Decorative fireplaces are just that - decorative. They do not have functional chimneys. They do not have proper guards in front to keep sparks from flying out. Do not use your decorative fireplace to build a real fire.

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Published by

Kay Cleaves