Tips for Winterizing Your Home

How to Prepare Your Home for Winter

House with snow on roof
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Carol Heffernan

You can take many steps to winterize your home and help ward against personal injury and financial disaster. As temperatures begin to dip, your home will require maintenance to keep it in optimum shape throughout the season. From the furnace to the gutters to the landscaping and many places in between, winterizing helps protect your investment while keeping you comfortable.

Furnace Inspection

Your first order of business is to call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean ducts. It's also a good idea to stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly. Consider switching out your thermostat for a programmable one. If you do, you'll want to make sure you purchase one you will use. Updating it accordingly will help you remain comfortable in your home and potentially slash your energy bill by a significant amount. Its benefit is that you can set this type of thermostat by season.

If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly and when water appears, close them. Remember to remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

Get the Fireplace Ready

If your chimney hasn't been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and other undesirable accumulations, like creosote. It's best to cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out rodents and birds. Buy firewood or chop your own. Whatever choice you make, store it in a dry place away from the exterior of your home. Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing. Also check the mortar between bricks and tuckpoint, if necessary.

Check the Exterior, Doors, and Windows

This step is critical for your health and safety. Inspect the exterior for crevice cracks and exposed entry points around pipes; seal them. Use weatherstripping around doors to prevent cold air from entering the home and caulk windows. Replace cracked glass in windows; if you end up replacing the entire window, prime and paint any exposed wood. If your home has a basement, consider protecting its window wells by covering them with plastic shields. Switch out summer screens with glass replacements from storage.

If you have storm windows, install them.

Inspect Roof, Gutters, and Downspouts

If your local temperature will fall below 32 degrees in the winter, adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams. Check flashing to ensure water can't enter your home. Consider replacing worn roof shingles or tiles. Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris. You may also want to install leaf guards on the gutters or extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from the home.

Service Weather-Specific Equipment

These measures help you keep tools ready when you will inevitably need them. Service or tune-up snow blowers. Replace worn rakes and snow shovels. Sharpen ice choppers and buy bags of ice-melt or sand. For equipment that you use in the other seasons, like a lawn mower, make sure to drain the gas to avoid rust. Clean, dry, and store summer gardening equipment.

Check Foundations

Rake away all debris and edible vegetation from the foundation. Seal up entry points or cracks to keep small animals from crawling under and into the house. Mice can slip through space as thin as a dime. Inspect sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation. Secure crawlspace entrances.

Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Some cities require a smoke detector in every room. Buy extra smoke detector batteries and change them when Daylight Saving Time ends. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace or water heater, or both. Make sure you test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are working properly. Buy a fire extinguisher or replace an extinguisher older than 10 years.

Prevent Plumbing Freezes

Locate your water main in the event you need to shut it off in an emergency. Drain all garden hoses. Insulate exposed plumbing pipes. Drain air conditioner pipes, and if your AC has a water shut-off valve, turn it off. If you go on vacation, leave the heat on, set to at least 55 degrees.

Prepare Landscaping and Outdoor Surfaces

A winter storm can ravage the outdoors to such an extent that you can experience devastating effects in your surrounding area and while you're in your home. Trim trees if branches hang too close to the house or electrical wires. Ask a gardener when your trees should be pruned to prevent winter injury. Seal driveways, brick patios, and wood decks. This is more for the aesthetics if it's to your liking, but don't automatically remove dead vegetation from gardens as it sometimes provides attractive scenery in an otherwise dreary, snow-drenched yard.

And remember to move sensitive potted plants indoors or to a sheltered area. You can also plan ahead for spring. Plant spring flower bulbs and lift bulbs that cannot winter over, such as dahlias, in areas where the ground freezes.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

Buy indoor candles and matches or a lighter for use during a power outage. Find the phone numbers for your utility companies and put them in the Contacts section of your cell phone. Buy a battery backup to protect your computer and sensitive electronic equipment. Store extra bottled water and nonperishable food supplies (including pet food, if you have a pet), blankets, and a first-aid kit in a dry and easy-to-access location. Often overlooked, it's smart to prepare an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency.