30 Tips To Get Your Home Ready For Winter
Like it or not, winter is coming. Whether you despise the cold weather and snow or embrace it, you can avoid a winter headache by making sure your home is ready for winter. The following tips will help ensure that you avoid costly repairs, prolong the life of your home and save money on energy bills in the process.
Getting The Outside Of Your Home Ready For Winter
Tip 1: Clean Out Your Gutters
Fall fills your gutters with leaves and other debris. Be sure to clear your gutters before winter hits. Cleaning ensures that your gutters are working properly and can drain the water away from your house as snow and ice thaw. If you don’t have clean gutters, water can turn to ice and build up in the gutters which can build into ice dams that can get under your roof and cause major water damage inside. Gutters that are frozen solid can get really heavy and separate from the house which can fall and cause injury or damage. Make sure that your downspouts are pointed away from your home, so water doesn’t leak into your house.
Tip 2: Inspect Your Roof
Give your roof a good look before winter hits. Are there any loose, damaged or missing shingles or tiles? Check for any broken seals around vents and the chimney. If you see or suspect problems, have a licensed roofing contractor do an inspection and make repairs before the first snow. According to the IBHS, a single cubic foot of snow or ice can weigh 20 to 25 pounds. That pressure can cause loose shingles to shift further, allowing water or moisture to permeate your roof and leak into your home.
Tip 3: Clean Debris From Flat Roofs
Although there are not many flat roofs in the Denver area, a portion of your roof might be flat. If you have a flat roof, be sure to remove leaves or other debris that can hold moisture. This home maintenance task can be done with a rake, broom or leaf blower.
Tip 4: Prevent Ice Damning
Over time, the vents located in your soffits and on some gable-end walls get clogged with dust and debris and lose their effectiveness and cause ice damning. Clean them with a leaf blower or compressed air. You could use a pressure washer, but stick to a couple quick passes because you don’t want to saturate the attic insulation with water. Clean the vents every few years, unless you live near a lot of trees with floating seeds, which can clog vents in one season. Poor insulation and clogged gutters can also cause ice damning in your gutters.
Tip 5: Trim Tree Limbs
Getting your home ready for winter should include checking your trees. Before all of the leaves fall, take a look at your trees and make sure they’re still healthy, especially trees that could fall on your home or a neighbor’s home. If you need to remove large limbs or remove a tree, it may be best to hire a professional.
Fall isn’t a good time to trim your trees, but if there are branches up against your house, it’s a good idea to trim them away before winter so you don’t have ice-coated branches against your siding, windows or roof.
Tip 6: Repair Concrete, Check Handrails
Repair any broken joints or cracks in your driveway, sidewalk, foundation, or walkway before the winter months or chances are that it’ll be worse in the spring. Water penetrates the crack, freezes and expands, and then lifts and separates the crack even more. Make sure any handrails are sturdy and well anchored to help prevent falls.
If you have an asphalt driveway, now is the time to think about resealing that as well. It’s not very expensive to have a company come and give it a quick spray of sealer, or you can simply buy a bucket of sealer and roll it on yourself. If your driveway has developed cracks, then patch those before sealing.
Loose patio or paving stones will will also heave over the winter. Have loose stones reset by a mason or handyperson in the fall.
Tip 7: Inspect Outdoor Lighting
Make sure your outdoor lighting is functioning properly, including motion and light sensor lighting. This will help prevent falls on ice-covered walkways and driveways.
Tip 8: Protect Your Air Conditioner
Cut the power to your central air conditioner before the weather turns frigid. Your compressor could be damaged if your A/C accidentally gets turned on in low temperatures. Also, some A/C compressors have a crankcase heater to keep the oil warm. Running this heater in the winter wastes money and the warmth could attract critters.
Flip off the breaker if the A/C compressor has a dedicated circuit, or rotate the disconnect block upside down into the ‘off’ position. The disconnect block is located outside in a small panel near the compressor. Reenergize the unit 24 hours before startup. That gives the oil time to reach operating temperature.
Even though the condensing unit is built for outdoor elements, it can still be damaged by falling icicles and other debris. Many manufacturers advise against wrapping your entire air conditioner because it can invite rodents and cause condensation, which can lead to early corrosion. Just place a sheet of plywood held down by a few bricks on top and your AC should be ready to work again in the spring.
Tip 9: Clean Window Weep Holes
Most windows have weep holes on the exterior bottom of the frame. These holes are designed to drain away moisture that can collect in the frame’s bottom channel. Weep holes can get plugged with bugs and debris, and if that happens, water could fill up the channel and spill over into your house.
To see if your weep system is working, simply pour a glass of water into the track or spray the outside of the window with a garden hose. If you don’t see a steady stream of clean water exiting the weep hole, poke a wire hanger into the hole, or spray it out with compressed air, and wet it down again. If the little flapper (designed to keep out driving wind) is stuck shut, it can be removed with a putty knife and replaced.
Tip 10: Paint, Caulk and Seal Exterior Wood
All of the wood trim on the exterior of your home needs to be protected from the elements. The wood used on your deck is typically a pressure-treated or rot-resistant species of wood, but the wood trim around your exterior doors and windows is just a one-inch-thick pine board that deteriorates very quickly if not protected. You can avoid deterioration by keeping it painted and caulked. Take the time to go around your home and make sure that none of the caulk is cracking and your paint is not chipping and flaking away. If it is, scrape away the bad paint or caulk and apply fresh.
Even though your deck is made of treated or rot-resistant wood, it still needs protection. You don’t need to stain and seal your deck every year but check it to make sure it’s protected. To do this, simply pour some water on it. If the water beads up, then you’re good. If the wood absorbs the water, it’s time to clean and seal your deck.
Tip 11: Clean And Fertalize Your Lawn
Homeowners often overlook their lawn when getting their homes ready for winter, but fall is the perfect time to lay the groundwork for a lush green lawn in the spring. Aerate and seed the lawn around October. Then apply a slow release, nitrogen fertilizer in November.
You don’t have to rake your leaves, just leave them where they fall and run them over with a mulching lawn mower -they add valuable organic matter to your lawn.
Getting The Inside of Your Home Ready For Winter
Tip 12: Inspect Insulation
Adequate insulation will help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If your insulation is insufficient, your heating system will have to work overtime this winter. By adding some insulation to your attic, walls and crawlspace, you will be more comfortable and save money on heating costs. Energy Star offers this guide to insulation, with recommendations for different regions of the country.
Tip 13: Check The Fireplace and Order Firewood
If you have a wood burning fireplace, you should have it cleaned and inspected every fall. While there is nothing better than sitting around a fire on a cold winter night, they are a leading cause of house fires every year. In fact there are over 25,000 chimney fires every year in the United States.
Making sure your chimney is clean and in good condition is a critical part of making sure your home is prepped for winter. As fires burn, a dark tar like substance called creosote is formed. If not cleaned regularly, this buildup can reach a highly flammable threshold. An inspection will check the condition of the chimney and cap as well as for creosote buildup and debris such as leaves and bird nests.
When not in use, be sure to close the damper. If you don’t plan on using your fireplace throughout the season, you can use a chimney balloon or flue blocker for an extra layer of energy-saving protection.
If you haven’t done it already, now is also the time to order that load of firewood. Take the time to stack and cover the wood in a good location in the yard. Make sure your old firewood isn’t rotten and move it away from your home.
Tip 14: Test Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Winter is the time most house fires happen. It’s the time of year when we blast the furnace, build fires, and light candles. Check all of your smoke detectors to make sure they are working and that they have good batteries.
If your home is not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, consider getting some. Carbon monoxide is caused by the incomplete burning of fuels that power many of the mechanicals in our homes. Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, and potentially fatal gas. It can quickly become a problem in a home closed up tight for winter. For more information about the dangers of carbon monoxide, check out this article by the CDC.
Tip 15: Make Sure Your Heating System Is Ready
With colder weather around the corner, it’s a great idea to make sure your heating system is fully operational before the cold weather arrives rather than begging for service when your furnace dies on a January night.
You should have your system cleaned every two to three years and check your filters every three months. A dirty or clogged filter means your system needs to work much harder to draw in the same amount of air, leading to shortened life of your furnace, energy waste and higher utility bills. Additionally, keeping a clean filter can help to reduce the recirculation of allergens, improving your home’s overall air quality.
Tip 16: Flush & Insulate Your Hot Water Heater
Flushing your hot water heater helps prolong the life of the tank. Over time, lime, calcium, and other minerals in your water can leave sediment in the tank (especially if you have hard water). Periodically draining your water tank doesn’t allow those sediments to build up and cause problems with the heating elements. The middle of the winter is the worst time to not have hot water in your home!
If your hot water heater is in a cold basement or closet, wrap it with an insulating blanket to help conserve energy. You can also turn the water temperature down a few degrees in the winter. Because warm water feels warmer as the air is cooler, you won’t notice and it will save energy (and money).
*Some technicians recommend that if your water heater is older and you haven’t regularly flushed it, you should NOT flush it.
Tip 17: Prevent Pipes From Freezing
When water freezes, it expands and can cause your pipes to burst. Sometimes you won’t realize there is damage until the ice thaws and water rushes through the broken pipe. Preventing pipes from freezing is a crucial step in getting your home ready for winter.
To prevent pipes from freezing inside your home, insulate pipes near windows, doors and in areas of the home that are unheated.
If you have a sprinkler system and haven’t had it winterized yet, now’s the time to do it before the threat of frozen pipes and clogged valves becomes an issue.
Disconnect your garden hoses from the outside faucets. Any hose bibs or piping that sticks up from the ground should be wrapped with insulating pipe tape or insulating foam and UV Proof tape.
Finally, set the heat to no lower than 55 degrees F.
Tip 18: Test Your Sump Pump
Your sump pump will help you keep your basement dry during the wet season. To make sure it’s working properly, slowly pour a few gallons of water into the pit to make sure the pump turns on.
Tip 19: Prepare The Humidifier
If you have a whole-house humidifier, make sure the drain line is clean. Replace the filter before you start it up and once more in the middle of the season. Finally, check to make sure the solenoid valve is working correctly and clean the humidifier’s fan.
Tip 20: Check For Air Leaks
A drafty house in the winter is no fun. If you have drafty windows or doors, there’s nothing better than buying all-new replacements to fix the problem. If you’re not quite ready for that, you can add weatherstripping or caulking to leaky areas. Finding leaky areas now and sealing them up not only keeps your house more comfortable in the winter months, but can also save you big money on your energy bill. Common culprits of drafts in your home are around electrical outlets, worn out weather stripping on doors, and older single pane windows. Learn more about weatherstripping by reading this article by the Department of Energy.
Tip 21: Add A Draft Stopper To Your Busy Doors
If you’re losing warm air from the bottom of a door, weatherstripping may not be enough to help. For less than $20, you get a draft stopper that will help close those gaps and keep chilly drafts from seeping into your nicely-heated spaces.
Tip 22: Protect Entryways
All that water, snow, and mud can ruin your entryway floors. Place mats both inside and outside the door, along with boot trays inside the entryway. Make sure your mudroom or laundry area is ready with a place to dry wet jackets, hats, mittens and gloves.
Tip 23: Install Storm Windows and Doors
If you want added insulation on your doors and windows, remove and store all window screens and install glass storm windows. Storm windows create an insulating layer of air between your windows and the cold outside air. These also provide an added layer of protection against driving rain and snow during a heavy storm.
A cheaper alternative is putting a thin film of plastic on your windows. A simple film covering shrink wrap kit made for windows, can help improve your windows’ ability to retain heat by about 24%.
Tip 24: Reverse CEiling Fans
If you’ve never changed your ceiling fan’s direction before, get ready to be blown away. Fans typically rotate counterclockwise, which produces a cooling effect. However, when they’re rotated clockwise, they’ll push down the hot air, keeping your home warm. Most ceiling fans have a switch near the motor which changes the direction that your fan spins. Don’t forget to flip the switch back to a counterclockwise spin in the spring to continue saving energy year-round.
Tip 25: Add A Smart Thermostat
As the weather shifts towards cold and we start to depend on our home heating systems, it’s a good idea to invest in a smart thermostat. Smart thermostats automatically lower the temperature when you’re asleep or away and let you control the heat from your phone to ensure you’ll be coming home to a warm environment, without wasting energy heating an empty house.
More Tips to Get Your Home Ready For Winter
Tip 26: Prepare For A Power Outage
Heavy snow will down power lines and cause power outages several times during the winter season in the Denver area, so make sure you’re prepared with a survival kit. Your survival kit should include water, non-perishable food, a flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid supplies, a battery operated smart phone charger and plenty of warm clothes.
Consider purchasing a generator to keep heat and lights on during prolonged winter power outages.
Tip 27: Prepare For Snow Removal
Dig out the snow blower, change the spark plug and oil and fire it up. Make sure it’s ready before the big one hits. If it’s not, then get it repaired now. Move your snow shovels near the door so they are ready to go. Also stock up on salt, ice melt or sand.
Tip 28: Protect patio Furniture
If you have room, store your outside furniture in a shed, garage or basement. If you don’t have room, keep your patio furniture safe from the elements by covering your pieces with a heavy tarp. Make sure you wait until a clear, warm day to cover it so you don’t trap moisture on it.
Tip 29: Protect pots
Your clay and porcelain planters can crack during the cold and wet weather Empty the pots, or make sure the soil is dry and keep them covered, or take the pots in for the winter.
Tip 30: Store Seasonal Tools
Store all of your seasonal tools such as rakes, pruning shears and garden shovels inside a garage or shed way from the elements. You can use a light coating of vegetable oil to help prevent rust.