15 Important Steps to Get Your House Prepped for Winter
Clean the Gutters
One surefire way to cause problems in winter—especially during those random midwinter thaws—is to let drainage problems go unchecked. Avoid that by cleaning gutters of fall debris before winter storms hit. All the accumulated debris, including leaves and sticks, can end up clogging your home's drainage systems, and that can cause water to back up or freeze, creating backups, ice dams, and possible structural damage. Use a small tool such as a hand scraper to remove any lodged-in materials, and rinse the gutters with a hose, making sure that leaks and cracks are fixed and downspouts are directed away from the home, not toward the foundation.
Check for Leaks
Whether it's peeling siding, a leaky roof spot, or drafty windows, now is the time to patch or replace old elements that no longer keep air and moisture out. If warm air can get out, cold air can get in, which means you can waste energy and not feel as comfortable inside your winter-weather house. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each home in the U.S. has enough leaks, holes, and gaps equal to having a window open every day of the year. You can caulk, upgrade your outlets, seal masonry, and use draft snakes to stop leaks at windows and doors.
Related: Quick Fall Fix-Ups for Your Home
Flip Your Fan Switch
One extra simple step to save cash? Use ceiling fans to reverse the airflow. In summer, you want air blowing downward for a cooling effect. Reverse the fan in winter so that it circulates the hot air around the room. This works especially well in rooms with high ceilings. Hot air rises and collects near the ceiling, so bring it down where people gather to keep your home warm and comfortable during cooler months.
Practice Fireplace Maintenance
If you have a fireplace you're planning to use inside, prepare it for cold weather by having a chimney sweep clean it. This eliminates build-up and helps prevent a chimney fire. If you have an old fireplace, you may want to look into a fireplace insert that improves heating efficiency. If you don't have a chimney cap, a chimney sweep may advise adding one to keep out animals and the elements.
Related: How to Install a Fireplace Blower
As part of a seasonal home maintenance routine, screens on doors and windows should be swapped out for storm versions. If you don't have storm windows and aren't planning on window replacements before winter, consider a window insulating kit, which is basically plastic that acts as a cold-weather barrier.
Achieve Perfect Humidity
Without a humidifier, heated indoor air can cause uncomfortably dry skin and increase your susceptibility to colds. Humidifiers can be purchased to add moisture to single rooms or to a whole house. Humidifiers need to be regularly cleaned and often need filter changes to guard against mold and mildew. If you're adding a humidifier to a child's room, consider a cool-mist humidifier, which uses a fan rather than heat to distribute moisture.
Basements, garages, and crawlspaces are prime spots for uninsulated pipes, which can burst in cold weather. To prevent a burst pipe, use foam rubber sleeves to wrap uninsulated pipes. Bonus points: you'll also reduce heat loss.
Insulate Windows with Curtains
Layer curtains and shades for insulation against window drafts. Look for curtains made of insulating material, or bulk up a light fabric with a layer of cotton flannel on the backside. Layers mean you can quickly change the look of your windows. In summer, heavy panels can be removed for the simplicity of shades. Remember, open curtains help reduce energy use, too. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends keeping drapes open on south-facing windows during the day during winter.
Related: How to Hang Curtains
Review Your Attic's Insulation
The generally accepted standard for attic insulation is 12 inches. Seeing roof joints is one clue that you might not have enough. A higher R-value for insulation indicates a greater ability to seal your home, and you can use loose-fill or blankets, according to the EPA—just don't pick insulation with a paper backing.
Give Your Air Conditioner Some TLC
A little protection can help your unused air conditioning unit better withstand its off months. Drain air conditioner hoses to prevent freezing and clean up any water in the drain pan. You can also cover the unit to prevent water and snow from entering during winter.
Size Up Your Garage's Stock of Outdoor Supplies
Rather than waiting until the first snowstorm hits, go through your garage now and size up your salt, sand, and shovel supplies. Are your shovels free from cracks? Do you have ample supplies of salt and sand to manage any icy deposits on your sidewalk and drive? There's no need to fight first-storm crowds when you can hit the store now while the weather's nice.
Loose or dead branches can't withstand winds, rain, or snow during winter. Prevent potential roof damage by removing any debris or hiring a tree trimming service to reach very high branches.
Boost Your Lighting
You can't change those dreary, short days—they're a fact of winter. But you can reevaluate interior lighting for a happier home. Spread light throughout rooms for an overall glow. Add uplights for a little extra shine and task lighting for rooms where you've got work to do. Check the quality of the light in the bulbs you have. Bulbs with a high color-rendering index give the truest light.
Turn Off Exterior Hoses
Garden hoses should be disconnected from exterior spigots and drained of any remaining water. This will help prevent possible pipe blockages or even bursts during the winter. Once removed, store your hose in a garage, basement, or shed.
Home winterizing time is a good time to change the batteries on smoke detectors, and replace any that are a decade or older. Check that your carbon monoxide detector is working, too, or install one if necessary.