Checklist: How to winterize your home

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Winter is coming. No, it won’t last many years like in the Game of Thrones universe, but it does come back around every year. That means every year homeowners in cold areas have to think a little more about the weather.

Cooler temperatures mean higher bills as you have to turn the heat on to stay warm. Winterizing your home, which goes beyond having a snow shovel on hand, can help you save money while helping your home endure the harsh winter elements to minimize the maintenance work you have to do in the spring.

When should you winterize your home?

It might sound obvious but you should winterize your home before winter weather arrives. You want to be prepared for cold temperatures, not caught off guard by them. Nobody wants to work on a home’s exterior in sub-freezing temperatures.

Depending on where you live, you might want to start weatherproofing anywhere between September to November. In very cold areas, you might consider investing in a home insurance policy that covers cold weather hazards that can harm your home. That way, if something unexpected - like a burst, frozen pipe - happens, you can get insurance to pay for it.

It might seem like an annoying hassle for something that happens every year, but it will pay off when you’re saving money and staying warm.

Home winterization checklist

Here is a list of what you need to prepare in, around, and outside your home as colder weather sets in for the winter season.

Exterior

1. Weatherproof doors and windows

Doors and windows are the biggest candidates to admit drafts to your home. Fixing that, however, is pretty easy.

Runners are an easy way to stop cold air leaks from the bottom of doors or windows. For a more permanent solution, you can purchase double-pane windows to stop drafts and increase energy efficiency or install insulation to your window frames. Sealing windows and doors with caulking or using weather-proof strips around cracks can also help prevent leaks.

2. Replace screen windows and doors

Screen windows and doors get easily damaged. Anywhere you have screen windows around your home, make sure to replace them with storm windows and storm doors. Storm windows will also give you an extra layer of insulation, helping to bring down your heating bill.

3. Inspect roof and clean gutters

Getting a roof inspection in the winter is difficult, especially if you live in an area with a lot of precipitation. So, hire a professional to take a look at your roof and gutters in the summer or fall to identify any potential problems like missing shingles or clogged gutters. When you find issues, you could make fixes — like removing any debris — on your own or hire help.

4. Disconnect hoses and sprinkler systems

Sprinkler systems can freeze and burst in a cold snap. The easiest way to winterize your system is shutting off the water supply and draining the water in the fall when you’re content to let the landscaping go for the winter.

Make sure to disconnect any garden hoses and shut off water to those sources, like an outdoor faucet, as well. If you bought a house with a pool, take the steps you need to drain and cover it for the winter.

5. Move outdoor equipment and plants inside

Anything that could get damaged by freezing temperatures or snow should come inside. Store outdoor furniture in a garage or basement; clean, disconnect, and cover your gas grills; add mulch around outdoor plants and bring small ones inside. When light freezes are coming, you can cover plants with blankets overnight and uncover them during the day.

Interior

6. Insulate your pipes

Pipes aren't delicate but they are prone to damage. Frozen pipes can lead to leaks, which can cause water damage. Even if you don’t live in an area that’s consistently below freezing during the winter, it’s a good idea to insulate pipes - especially ones that are exposed in your attic or garage.

Use newspaper or buy pipe sleeves at the hardware store for a short term fix that will keep pipes from freezing or bursting when the temperature drops. If you’re leaving for an extended period, consider turning your water off completely. More permanent solutions are also available for exposed pipes, but you should consult with a plumber rather than do it yourself.

7. Test your heating system

Nobody wants to try to turn on the heat during the first freeze of the year only to find that it’s not working. Test your heat before winter. If something seems amiss or you know your system is on the older side, hire a professional to take a look at your furnace and make sure everything is in working order.

In addition to testing the heating system, take some time to clear your air filters and ducts in your home. To do so safely, turn off the heating system, unscrew duct covers, and vacuum them as much as you can. It’s also a good idea to check your carbon monoxide detector.

Related: The difference between baseboard heating vs. forced air

8. Reverse your ceiling fan

One of the simplest ways to reduce heating costs is to set your ceiling fans to rotate the other way. Set them to rotate in a clockwise direction in the winter months to push warm air near the ceiling down into the room. (Maybe your fans already rotate clockwise!)

9. Service your chimney, fireplace, and flue

The winter months are the ones you’ll use your fireplace the most. You should get your chimney inspected annually to be on the safe side, so you'll have the perfect opportunity as part of your winterization checklist. Schedule an inspection before you start using it regularly. Similarly, you may want to make sure your smoke detector is running properly, too, and has fresh batteries.

If you don’t use the fireplace during the winter, then seal it up to keep warm air from escaping through the chimney. Many fireplaces have a flue that makes it easy to seal the chimney. Then, install glass doors around the fireplace opening to reduce the heat loss and keep out the cold air.

10. More energy-cost saving measures

Finally, there are many little things you can do to save money on your energy bill throughout the winter. By adjusting your day-to-day habits, you can make the winter less of a burden on your wallet without harming your home or tolerating discomfort.

  • Install hot water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators.
  • Consider keeping your hot water heater and thermostat at a consistent temperature and don’t futz with it during the winter season.
  • Unplug appliances when you’re not using them.
  • Turn off the lights when you’re not using a room.
  • Change your light fixtures to LED light bulbs.

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