Winter’s coming. Time to call Rudy.

First of all, let me be clear: I am not as inept when it comes to home improvement projects as many of you think I am. I’m actually more inept. There are some things I don’t even try. For instance, I leave to the experts anything that involves electricity, plumbing, or the International Monetary Fund.

But it is now the middle of October, which means that it’s time to prepare our homes for winter – unless, of course, you live in the neighborhood in Miami, Florida in which I spent a part of my adolescence. Mid-October in Florida actually meant less work around the house, because we were no longer battling palmetto bugs. The palmetto bug is an insect that some people think is a mere cockroach with a southern accent, but I’ve never seen a cockroach the size of a poodle. Palmetto bugs, on the other hand, scared my dog. Nevertheless, as Halloween neared, my family and I were no longer swatting the bugs off the ceiling like they were zombies or trying to fix the holes in the screens through which they would slither. Good times.

In any case, I’ve been living in Vermont for over two decades now, and so even though in most regards I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m doing, I do have experience. And that counts. Just look at how much experience helped John McCain (2008), John Kerry (2004), and Al Gore (2000). So, here are a few winterization tips that may help you prepare for the first serious snowfall and first serious cold weather.

* Insulate your water pipes and try to prevent any from touching a basement foundation wall. Also, know what to do when your water pipes freeze. Some people recommend running a propane torch over the frozen pipes, but since I can’t tell the difference between a water pipe and an LP gas pipe, I recommend against this. Frozen pipes are frustrating, but blowing up your house will put a real damper on your day. So, I have found that when your pipes freeze, you should call a plumber.

* Consider buying a snow rake. If you want to minimize the chance of an ice jam that will lead to water leaking into your living room, try and keep snow off your roof. Still, be prepared for those nasty ice jams. At different points in the winter, I will find them in the eastern and northern-facing valleys on my roof. The ones facing east aren’t so bad, because I can stand on top of my screened porch and whack them with an ax like a serial killer. But the northern ones I can’t reach. So, if you ever find an ice jam on a northern valley of your roof, you should call my next-door neighbor, Rudy Cram. Unlike me, he knows what he’s doing.

* Use weather-stripping, Mortite, and clear plastic to seal your windows and doors to keep the heat in and the palmetto bugs out. Obviously I’m kidding about the palmetto bugs. We all know that palmetto bugs eat clear plastic for breakfast. But you do want to keep heat in. One tip? Don’t set the household blow dryer on “nuclear” when you are eliminating the creases in the plastic. You will blow a hole in the plastic and have to start again. Set the hairdryer on a lower setting. Then, once the plastic is crisp and you have blown a fuse, do what I do and call an electrician.

* Inspect your furnace. But, in the name of heaven, don’t inspect it yourself! It has a pilot light, and there is nothing more terrifying than a fire that doesn’t go out. Call your gas or oil company and have them inspect it.

* Clean your rain gutters and down spouts. Why? I have no idea. For all I know, there are palmetto bugs living in them. I’ll call Rudy and get back to you.

So, in conclusion, if you do nothing else to prepare for winter, do this: Pay your phone bills and charge your cell phone.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 16. Chris’s most recent novel, The Night Strangers, was just published.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

3 thoughts on “Winter’s coming. Time to call Rudy.

  1. Charlie Leighton says:

    Hi Chris,
    I am halfway through your new book and I am mystified by something. There are more than a few references to “carriage bolts” holding a door closed. Perhaps you meant to say “lag bolts” because carriage bolts don’t work the way you are describing. Carriage bolts work with nuts which would be easy to remove…six inch lag bolts would be another issue. Just curious, Charlie

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