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Winter Preparations

by Catherine Fournier

This time it was a dead mouse in the ceiling. The 'smell' - though that's an understatement - first made itself known on Saturday morning. A faint miasma of odour, it could have been almost anything; sweaty socks, an old apple core, some mysterious rot drifting in the windows from outside. By the evening, it was slightly worse, but after a day of errands I was tired enough to ignore it. Of course on Sunday morning, since it's always a scramble to get out of the house in time for Mass, I didn't have time to pay attention to a mysterious stink. By Sunday afternoon, it was difficult to breathe in our bedroom. But we couldn't locate the smell. That it was a dead mouse was obvious by then, we just couldn't find it.

We tried. The smell was so bad that after about three minutes, our noses shorted out, we couldn't smell it anymore but instead would become increasingly nauseous. So we'd go into the room, sniff around trying to locate where it was strongest, and crawl out to give our noses a chance to recuperate.

Eventually, we closed in on one wall. It was in the wall somewhere, we were sure. Since we have suspended ceilings and the tongue and groove wood panelling doesn't go all the way up to the top of the studding, it was possible that a mouse could've fallen into the wall space and been trapped. So, we decided to take apart the panelling on that wall and have a look. After about a hour of desperate struggling with well seated nails and well-dried poplar panelling - the stuff rivals oak for hardness - and breathing breaks in the hall, we got enough panelling off to peer inside the wall. There was no sign of anything.

A child, foolhardy enough to venture into a room containing a murderous smell and two crazed parents, suggested that perhaps the smell was drifting from some other part of the house, on the air currents that use the ceiling space to move heat around the house. This was a horrible suggestion - who wants to stand on a chair and come eye-level with a rotting mouse? - but plausible. So we started taking down ceiling panels and looking in the ceiling.

Sure enough, one room over, there was the sorry carcass of a four day old dead mouse in a mouse trap. After covering the area with plastic sheeting, and using garbage bags as gloves, we lifted the mouse and the very offensive ceiling panels into large garbage bags and hurriedly tied them shut. Then we set up large fans to blow through the entire floor of the house and out the front door.

The moral of the story? Well, if you live in the country, as we do, autumn is when the gardens start to die back, leaves to fall, and the mice move into your house. Last year, we were kept awake by mice running around in the ceiling over our bed (they'd patter across a ceiling tile, jump over a cross bar with a tiny resonant boom, and do it again: patter, patter, boom, patter, patter, boom.) I put mouse traps in the ceiling and caught a mouse a day for a few weeks. By Hallowe'en there were no more mice and I forgot about the traps.

It must be fall again, and the mice are moving back into our house. Time to check the traps daily.

I'm not happy about the fact that it took a dead mouse grab-you-by-the-throat reek to remind me, but there is a lot more to fall house maintenance than loading and setting mouse traps. Whether you live in the city or the country, there are a few household jobs that need to be done on a yearly basis and the fall is the best time to do them.

Traditionally (because I say so) we do these jobs on Thanksgiving weekend. Canadian Thanksgiving is the second weekend in October. Seasonally, speaking it's the same time of year as the American Thanksgiving in November - harvest is over, the gardens are well and truly dead, and should be put to rest for the winter, and it's time to do all those maintenance jobs that you'll really wish you had done when the first blizzard strikes.

Every household will have a different list of things to be done, but I hope the list below triggers your memory and prompts you to make your own list, before a mouse dies in your ceiling.

Outside:

  • Coil hoses, and store them. Will you be using them to make a rink?
  • Take in sump hose, if you haven't already. Put it somewhere warm so it's not frozen to the ground next spring when things start to thaw.
  • Put out block heater cord. Hang it somewhere so it doesn't get stuck or lost in a snow bank.
  • Clear out your garage (unless you keep it tidy all the time. If so, I salute you, it's beyond me.)
  • Replace garden tools with snow shovels in the easy access place in the garage.
  • Have the septic tank pumped. Depending on the size of your tank, this should be done every year or every two years. More often won't hurt, but it must be done at least every two years.
  • Take down screens, put up storm windows if you have them. Repair any minor damage to the outside of the house. Wash the outside of all your windows.
  • Clean out the eavestroughing.
  • Put away lawn furniture.
  • Why not put up Christmas lights now, while it's warm-ish? Don't light them yet, of course.
  • Have cars tuned and oil changed ready for winter. Put blankets, and emergency candles and food into cars. Also road sand, skid pads, jumper cables.

Inside:

Services:
  • Flush your hot water tank. To do this: Turn off the heating elements at the electrical box (very important, or you will burn them out). Shut off the pipe that flows into the tank. Open the vent at the top of the tank to allow air into the tank as it drains. Attach a hose to the tap at the bottom of the tank, run the hose to your sump hole, or drainage hole. Open the tap at the bottom of the tank and drain the tank. When water stops coming out, fill the tank again by opening the tap at the top, then close that tap and drain it again. Then do everything in reverse: Close the tap at the bottom, remove the hose. close the vent at the top of the tank, open the tap at the top of the tank. Allow it to fill with water. Turn on the heating elements from the electrical box.
  • Replace furnace filters, have furnace serviced if necessary.
  • Check condition of your fuel tank.
  • Have your chimney cleaned. I do this in the spring, after the burning season is over, but it can be done in the fall too.
  • Check your woodstove, make sure it's in good working condition. Remove any rust with steel wool and repaint with heat resistant enamel.
  • Fix any dripping taps.
  • Make sure that your outer doors have a good seal and that all your windows close tightly. Put plastic over windows that you will not be opening all winter.
Organization:
  • Switch the contents of linen closets, take summer sheets etc off beds, bring out winter blankets.
  • Order fire wood, or fuel.
  • If you do the summer/winter upholstery and curtains thing, switch them now.
  • Switch mud mats and rugs with boot trays and mats at outer doors.
  • Put out mouse traps, ant traps, whatever pest traps you need. Check them often.
  • Clean kitchen cupboards. (You won't have time to do this just before Christmas, and you'll wish you had when your snotty relatives come to visit. We all have them.)
  • Buy bird seed, take down hummingbird feeders, wash and hang small bird feeders.
  • Check your emergency supplies - will you be prepared if the power goes out?
People Stuff:

There is more about this subject covered in Thrift Shops and Hand-Me-Downs; Keeping Them Organised.

  • Sort through clothes closets and chests of drawers, removing all seasonal summer clothing. Replace with winter clothes.
  • Wash raincoats, wind-breakers and other warm season outer wear. Hang in closets recently vacated by winter coats, and boxes of mitts, hats, and scarves.
  • Check boot sizes.

I hope I never have to tear apart my bedroom again, but I'm sure there will be some other problem to solve in the near future. If we work through this list weekend after next (with two adults and six children to help, it's not impossible), the size of the problem and the length of time it takes us to solve it, should be greatly minimised.

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